Not too long ago my sister asked, “Do you remember the night Bev (my eldest sister) almost shot you?”
While I seem to remember every detail of my childhood, I do not remember this particular near-death experience.
My parents were a social couple and cocktail parties were all the rage in the late 1950s. It was all very “Mad Men” then. My father was in the whiskey business as we always called it, and mother sold real estate for a time in Atlanta. Mother was beautiful, dad was handsome and they both had delightful personalities. In other words, they were very popular.
So there were many nights I was left in the care of my teenage sisters, with the reasonable expectation I would survive until Mom and Dad returned.
On this particular night, one of my sisters heard a noise, perhaps from the basement which terrified us, and both or one or all of us decided the house had been broken into.
Unbeknownst to me, Bev went into my parents’ bedroom and retrieved a pistol from Dad’s sock drawer. Where she found the bullets is beyond me. All of it is beyond me, because it is the haziest memory and maybe not a memory at all because Sandi had to tell me what happened.
This was the same gun my mom kept close at hand when Dad was stationed in Tuscaloosa, Ala., during World War II. She moved from Savannah, Ga., to be near him, bringing Bev. Sandi and I weren’t yet born.
Mom was such a scaredy cat then. She had not evolved into the fierce Tiger Mother she would later become, and I use that in the sense of a woman who would take on anyone or anything that threatened her children.
She used to carry the pistol in her apron pocket when she went out to put the clothes on the line. One of Dad’s Army buddies, Fats, stopped by while she was hanging out the laundry and noticed the gun. Mom explained she carried the gun because she was afraid, but she was also too afraid to put bullets in it.
Fats burst out laughing. “What ya gonna do if somebody comes up and grabs ya?” he said. “Ask ’em to wait while you go in the house and get the bullets?”
Mom took a lot of grief for that, but she never carried a gun again.
So, Bev had the loaded gun and she was creeping around the house looking for our imaginary burglar. Somehow I got separated from her and Sandi. Sandi said Bev and I rounded the same corner from different directions. Bev raised the gun to shoot, then realized it was her baby sister, not a burglar. Or Sandi screamed and warned her. I don’t remember.
I don’t remember how close I came to being a statistic, having my life snuffed out at 6 or 7 because my parents were stupid enough to keep a gun and bullets in the house where their children could get to them. And frightened teenagers are very childlike.
Every day you read about a shooting in which the parents’ guns were accessed by kids who accidentally shot themselves or someone else.
If we’re not going to limit the number of guns people can have, can we at least make sure they are securely locked up? As in Fort Knox locked up?
Mom and Dad got rid of that pistol right away. We never had another gun in our house.
And though I don’t remember it, thank God I’m here to write about it.
Jan Hearne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.