This story is an excerpt from my first book, LInes in the Gravel (and 52 Other Re-Told Childhood Tales). From a kid’s standpoint, it was the best Christmas ever.[/bluebox]
The Best Christmas Ever
There is a photo of me somewhere at Mom and Dad’s house of what I considered my best Christmas ever. I think I was 10 years old that year. I got a Minnesota Vikings Fran Tarkenton jersey that year, and I’m wearing it in the photo. Andy and I pored over the Sears Christmas catalog for hours every year before Christmas before finally choosing an NFL player jersey and an NFL team sweatshirt for that year. Over the years, I was Archie Manning, Ron Jaworski, Bert Jones, Roger Staubach, Ken Anderson – many of the great quarterbacks of that era.
In that aforementioned Christmas photo, I was holding the prize of that year’s Christmas haul, my first BB gun. During the pre-Christmas conversations about my ability to handle a gun with some level of maturity, Mom had given me all the Christmas Story warnings about not shooting my eye out. She was also insistent that I should never, ever shoot birds with it, either. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I had responded (in my mind) as I had given all the obligatory answers aloud.
I was more than ready to responsibly handle a BB gun. Too old to be getting my first BB gun, actually. My cousin John Earl was two years younger than me and had already shot a double-barrel 12-gauge. (Forget that he knocked out two of his teeth in the process.)
Christmas Day came and the new BB gun was indeed under the tree! I couldn’t wait to slip on the new Tarkenton jersey and go shoot some targets. When the morning festivities were complete (including posing for that photo with my new gun), I headed outside to start plinking some cans from the fence posts – but only after another round of safety instructions from Mom.
Warrior on Patrol
I was completely content to assail the invading wave of aluminum cans that day and in the days and weeks that followed, keeping my family’s fortress free from their tyranny. Wave after wave of the Aluminati surrendered to my proficient marksmanship until their kingdom was no longer a threat to the Ainsworth domain. As with any warrior worth his salt, however, the boredom of having no battle to wage was a powerful, crippling force.
One day while on routine patrol, I noticed a brightly-colored mama bluebird perched on the limb of the giant pine tree in front of my dad’s shop. A thought ran through my mind, the thought that has brought about the demise of many pre-teen boys through the generations, “I wonder what would happen if…” If you were to have asked me what I thought would happen in that moment, I couldn’t have told you. All I know is that I raised my gun toward mama bluebird and squeezed the trigger. I absolutely did not expect her to plummet from her perch, never to fly or sing again. I stood aghast at this totally unanticipated state of affairs.
The Aftermath of the Demise of Mama Bluebird
Don’t shoot my eye out and don’t shoot birds. Those were my only two instructions, and I had broken one of them within weeks of getting my first BB gun. And I didn’t shoot a crow or even a mean ol’ bluejay; nooooo, I shot a helpless mama bluebird that did nothing but bring beauty to the world around it. I felt like my only choice was to cover it this crime, to keep it from Mom. Looking around and not seeing anyone nearby, I grabbed mama bluebirds tail with as little of my fingers as required to hold her and threw her lifeless body into the tall weeds near my Aunt Sissy’s garden. As far as I know, her body was never found.
Days passed, and the expected repercussions never came. I had gotten away with the perfect crime. Except…every time I saw a bluebird, I felt the guilt. The BB gun had certainly lost its luster. It’s not easy being the only one carrying the guilt of killing an innocent mama bluebird, something I was specifically told not to do. So…I finally did what I should have done the day it happened. I got up the nerve to tell Mom, and I told her what happened…earlier this year, 37 years later.
I can finally look at that Christmas photo again, guilt assuaged, having learned a valuable lesson about trusting authority, about trusting that Mom did indeed know best.[bluebox]Al Ainsworth is the author of five books:
Coach Dave Season Three: Middle School[/bluebox]