Heirlooms, Firearms, Kids and Tomorrow

Last weekend’s Friends of NRA banquet—supporting the NRA Foundation—was a big success, thank you.  Nationwide, in events like ours, the Foundation has raised a couple hundred million bucks over the last two decades for shooting programs and education.  Washington State has received the better part of three million in grants for dozens of programs.  The current byline of the Foundation is “Building America’s Shooting Sports generation one NRA Foundation grant at a time.”  Last Saturday, we did our part.

As much as I enjoy serving as master of ceremonies for banquets and other fund-raising events, such as Ducks Unlimited, Chukar Run and Forterra, it was very pleasant to simply attend and hang with homeys.  I liked being able to have an in-depth conversation about some of the issues with which we are all grappling these days.  I was struck by the talk of our kids, their shooting sports futures and the “heirloom” firearms—even the brand new ones in the room that night—we might leave them.

There were quite a few firearms in the auction and raffles, and several conversations in the room revolved around how this or that plinking firearm or hunting rifle or shotgun would be a perfect gift for a kid or grandkid coming up through organized safety training.

The whole thing got me thinking about my own heirloom firearms.  I have several, I guess; the sweet little Daly over-under I reclaimed with money The Old Man left me, One I bought for myself in 1963, and a couple from my Aunt Veva—one of which is known as “Van=s rifle.”

I heard about Van’s rifle in the late 40s.  I was eight, and already disappearing for hours, making arrows from long cedar shingles, and turning apple boxes into rabbit traps.  I was showing clear signs of squandering my life on the outdoors.  My mom’s oldest sister Veva watched with trepidation.

One day, she and Uncle Vic drove into East Wenatchee from their San Francisco home with an old Winchester single‑shot .22 rifle.  Made around the turn of the last century, it was the about the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  The Old Man immediately enrolled me in an NRA shooting course.

Aunt Veva explained that this little rifle had belonged to her first husband, Van.  Since they had no kids, he would have wanted me to have it.  I was ALWAYS to handle it safely.  When I was grown, there was a “real” rifle I might receive.  “A very fine gun,” she said, “Van’s favorite.”  Her brother Kenneth had the rifle, since Aunt Veva didn’t want any guns around her house.

Uncle Kenneth was known as an exceptionally quiet man.  He had his reasons.  In 1941, Marine Pfc. Kenneth Davis was stationed at the American embassy in Peking.  180 Marines were surrounded by 40,000 Japanese troops.  Unable to evacuate China before Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, they became prisoners of war.  For 45 1/2 months, they were shuttled from prison camp to prison camp.  They worked the Manchurian coal mines for a watery millet soup, rice and fish heads.  My 170‑pound uncle weighed 100 pounds when he was liberated on September 12th, 1945.  He was a quiet guy, but I figured that after all he’d seen most things were just not worth talk.

But he loved to hunt, and he loved to talk about it with me.  I many times wondered why he ignored adults to talk to a silly boy who spent all his time afield.  I saw less of him as I became an adult, but when I did see him we could talk for days about the things outdoor people never tire of reliving.  That talk always came easily.

I lived with the little .22 rifle, collecting bulls-eyes on targets and rabbits in the brush.  My own kids learned to shoot with it.  In time, I forgot about Van’s rifle, still in my Uncle Kenneth’s care.

One morning in the ‘80s, my mother called me in Denver.  Kenneth was dying… Could we go to Franklin (Nebraska) to see him?

As weak as he was, Kenneth and I talked and talked.  This time, we talked more about Van.  Herman Van Temmon was a hunter, like us.  In 1938, he and a buddy were in the woods, out of San Francisco, shooting at pine cones with a new .22 automatic pistol.  Somehow, Van walked from behind a tree and into a bullet.  He told me Veva was devastated, but never blamed the guns.

Van’s rifle was a Remington Model 30, .30‑06—an early sporterized version of the 1917 Enfield.  In my uncle=s care for well over 50 years, it still looked new.  He handed me the rifle.  “I promised Veva…  And Van, too, I guess.  It’s been yours for a long time,” he said.  “Take it home.”

The safe pleasure of shooting sports and “heirloom” firearms with stories; these are fundamental parts of the outdoor heritage we leave our kids and grandkids, I think.


Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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