The Springfield Rifle

September 2003

If you recall childhood memories and then analyze them again in adulthood you will often discover new conclusions that seem obvious to a mature mind. From about the age of four, I often accompanied my father in his work. I thought he was the greatest genius in the world; he knew how to do everything, and everyone he met liked him. Sometimes he paid me a dollar a day. I'm not sure if he was baby sitting, showing me off, or just using me for entertainment, since I often found myself embarrassed after saying or doing something that drew a lot of laughs. A big pile of sand was left over after a job, and the men were discussing what they should do with it. I offered what seemed a rather obvious solution, to take it home and put it in my sand box. Everyone laughed. I felt like a total idiot.

On another occasion, my father had repaired some plumbing in an antique store in Tullahoma and the owner, with great appreciation, wanted my father to see his gun collection. He had stacks of ancient guns. My father was handling one and admiring it as though it were solid gold. I wanted to hold it, but Daddy snapped, "No, no, these are priceless and I don't want to have to buy one." Once more I felt like shit.

The man responded by insisting that I hold it, which I did. I felt like a god. Then he asks me, "Would you like to buy it? My eyes lit up and I looked at Daddy wishfully, "Yes, can I?" And the man asked me how much I would pay. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my day's pay, one dollar, and proudly offered it to him, almost expecting him to take it and give me some change back. Everyone in the room laughed, and I started feeling like shit again.

At that moment, the man responded by saying "Son, you have a deal." And he handed me a beautiful Springfield rifle in mint condition, from the War Between the States era, and he took my dollar. I felt wonderful again, and I knew better than ask for change at that point.

I kept the rifle for many years, and hung it on my bedroom wall. Like so many other possessions I had as a child, my ignorance of its real value led me to treat it more like a toy. I was occasionally puzzled when Daddy would refer to it as his, since clearly I had purchased it with my own money. Eventually, my friends and I used it as much as any other toy gun and tossed it around carelessly. It was the one toy gun that we could shoot fireworks in the barrel. One of my friends during a mock gunfight tossed it from the roof of our garage and broke it in half. Today I have only a few pieces of what once was a mint condition relic from the civil war.

Like many other experiences from childhood that I have revisited here, I was able now to interpret this one with a more mature mind. Only now can I realize that the man who sold the rifle to me for one dollar must have been a very kind and sensitive man to give up such a fine relic out of respect for my father and to protect the feelings of a child. Only in my recent analysis did I realize that the man had, in effect, given it to my father. I wish there were some way I could go back and thank him for being a great human being.




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