He’s back! One of my all-time favorite seasonal movies – A Christmas Story – is one many of you no doubt love as well. Particularly you Fathers. It stars nine-year old Ralphie, a captivatingly nerdy little fellow who virtually steams his horn-rimmed glasses salivating for an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle (with a compass in the stock plus “this thing which tells time,”a sundial) for Christmas! To those of you who are not as expert in the field of such sophisticated weaponry as we former 9-year old marksmen, it of course is also known simply as a BB gun; a must Christmas gift for ‘big game hunters’ and Fathers. And an absolute “not on your life, never in a million years” for Mothers.
In my day (and Ralphie’s) back in the 40’s, Red Ryder was a rugged comic strip and radio show cowboy who straddled a horse named Thunder, partnered with young Native-American sidekick, Little Beaver, and his horse, Papoose. Ralphie’s coveted Red Ryder air rifle was (still is) patterned after Red’s oft-fired, raw hide danglin’, varmint killin’ rifle. Bad guys paled at the sight of this courageous duo. There was even a Red Ryder “big-little” book, remembered by most old-timers; a hard-covered little 3 x 3 inch book, one-inch or so thick, which, like comic books of the day, featured the day’s super-heroes and crime-fighters from Superman to Tarzan. Each book had a fascinating ‘motion picture’ feature in the upper right hand corner of each page, so that by quickly fanning the pages like a deck of cards, you could watch Red Ryder actually gallop across the desert chasing them varmints. Wow!
At about age 12, I owned a Daisy repeater rifle with a shiney blue-black steel barrel; a step up from Ralphie’s Red Ryder model with its name cursively wood-burned into the stock and a piece of rawhide dangling beneath for (I guess) added man appeal. I vividly remember loading the “magazine” with brass-colored BB’s, poured by hand from a red 200 or 300 count cardboard tube; a relatively simple maneuver except when over-pouring them into the small hole at the end of the magazine and having to pick up escaped BB’s from the sidewalk (never pour over grass or sloping concrete!) The capacity of the magazine was far less I think than Ralphie’s 200-hundred count model, but I truly loved, and still remember, its oiled aroma each time I anxiously reloaded during gun-battles with imaginary gnarly looking, scraggly bearded, bad guys with tobacco-stained teeth, hiding behind nearby trees.
Besides bad guys there were other things to shoot of course, but (Mothers, this is for you), never birds! Never. If I had so much as been tempted, you can rest assured Daisy would have ended up in our coal-burning furnace the minute Dad got home. So, my big game exploits were spent at the “dump” down behind our home where the neighborhood threw it’s trash and rats abounded; some fat, some slinky, but all just right for a well-placed BB! Never ‘kilt ‘em,” but it sure did make them scamper. Of course the dump was loaded with cans and bottles to use for target practice during rodent-less periods. Oh, those were the days. Wonderful barefoot outdoor days, before anyone dreamed of a time when fighting bad guys would be done indoors in a darkened room on a computer screen. Note to environmentalists: Both dumps in our neighborhood we’re filled in long ago, grassed over, became playgrounds, football and soccer fields. One has a small pumping station that provides natural gas heating for the adjacent junior high school.
I have no idea what happened to my Daisy BB gun. Maybe it did go in the furnace like my noisy Roy Rogers pearl-handled six-shooter cap gun which was solemnly cremated when Mother returned home from a hospital stay requiring rest and absolute quiet. But chances are it just eventually went with all my toys one spring house cleaning day, long after I had left home to peacefully take on the real, adult world. Nonetheless, I will always fondly recollect its specialness in that day and age of innocence, when cap pistols, G-Man machine guns that spit real live sparks, BB guns, and even imaginary pistols made by cocking one’s bare finger and thumb, were still legal, and part of growing up. It was a time when boys were allowed to be boys who for the most part I’m sure grew up to be good men, good Fathers and wonderful Grandpas, as I’m positively sure Ralphie did. Red would be proud.
Mel Grossman is a local resident and guest columnist.