Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 27, 2003 Herald Journal
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BB guns and Rose


The top corner of my favorite page in the 1954 Sears Christmas catalog was folded over about an inch.

I didn't really need to mark it, because the catalog opened automatically to that spot from my having turned to it so often.

I loved the Sears Christmas Book, and until I entered college, it was probably the only volume of any kind that I had studied from cover to cover.

At least twice a day I would turn to page 314 to stare at the Daisy Red Ryder Lever Action Western Carbine air rifle shown there. It featured a blued steel barrel, an adjustable rear sight, and a genuine plastic forearm and gunstock. My heart ached to own that BB gun.

But Christmas came and went, and Santa paid no heed to my desires. It wasn't until the following spring that my dad finally succumbed to my pleadings and bought me one for my birthday.

We didn't order it from Sears, however. We saved the cost of postage and purchased the gun at Kolbe Hardware for $4.95. A pack of copper-coated BBs cost an additional nickel.

That afternoon, I practiced my aim by shooting most of my ammunition at a tin can. I learned that hitting the partially attached lid when it was angled toward me allowed the can to capture the spent BBs.

Those that weren't knocked out of round by the impact I could reload and shoot again. A damaged BB would cause the gun to jam.

So, with the help of my big brother, I learned all about the trigger activation wire, the shot tube, the compression spring, and all the other internal parts of my air rifle, as we had to unjam it several times.

At six o'clock in the evening, I didn't want to come in to eat because Mom had this totally arbitrary rule about "no guns at the supper table."

We had another go-round at 9 p.m., but this time we compromised. I could take the gun to bed if I took all of the BBs out.

As might be expected, I soon grew tired of just shooting at tin cans, and my attention turned to targets that could move. I was much like most other boys my age, not totally without a conscience; but because an eight-year-old feels immortal, I had far too little respect for the lives of sparrows, blackbirds, and, especially, frogs.

My friends and I pursued these creatures relentlessly and sent many to their graves. I rationalized that I wasn't nearly as cruel as some of my brother's friends, for I only shot frogs.

Some of the older boys placed firecrackers in their mouths and blew them up. I learned early in life that cruelty is a relative concept.

There was no city ordinance against shooting BB guns in town. It would have been pointless as old man Dohman made a habit of shooting pheasants with a 12-gauge in his garden next door.

Some of our other neighbors on the southeast corner of town still had chicken barns, and the occasional sound of .22 caliber gunfire was not unusual, as people had to shoot the rats and skunks that invaded them. So shooting a BB gun in town didn't rate much attention.

A typical example of the mischief perpetrated by my friends and me occurred on the spring morning that David Briesemeister and I ventured out to shoot some birds.

We watched a blackbird as it flew in and out of a tall evergreen tree that was south across the street from Weise and Kuhlmann Hardware.

There was a nest concealed in the tree about three-fourths of the way up. As the mother bird was feeding her young, we could not get a clear shot at her because of the thick branches.

Clever, but evil boys that we were, we plotted to coax her out into the open.

The next time that she flew off to hunt for more crickets or grasshoppers, David climbed up the tree to the nest and came back down with two baby birds in his shirt pocket.

They had all of their feathers and were only a day or two from being able to fly.

We placed them on the ground planning to use them as bait to lure their mother into shooting range.

But the active, frightened little creatures beat their wings, ran, and wouldn't stay put.

So, I went across the street to the butcher shop and asked Mrs. Thiel for a piece of that white string from the overhead spool that they used to tie up meat packages. She asked what I wanted it for, and I said, "To tie up some birds."

She looked a little puzzled, but gave it to me anyway. Back across the street we cut the string in two, tied a piece to one leg of each bird, and then staked them out near the tree using two Popsicle sticks as anchor posts.

Apparently Rose Baumann had been watching our activities from the hardware store window. She marched across the street toward us with a glint of steel and anger in her eyes.

I have since that day disagreed with Shakespeare's quote from Romeo and Juliet that reads, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

For this Rose was mad as hell, and in no mood for sweetness. She grabbed my ear, twisted, and held on tightly.

Pointing to the helpless birds on the ground, she said sternly, "Stanley Hoof, you should be ashamed of yourself! I know your mother taught you better than this."

Then she ordered David to put the birds back in their nest, which he did, fearing that his ear would be next.

Somewhat shamefaced, and toting our guns not so proudly as before, we walked home hoping that Rose would not call our parents.

We carried with us the knowledge that, for better or worse, in a small town like Lester Prairie, there is no anonymity, and every mother in town feels responsible for the behavior of a larger family than just her own.

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