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D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    March 2008

Birthday Presents, Past

Remembering a childhood arsenal of toy (and real) guns, bows and arrows.


It is now March as you read this — my birthday month. So I've been cogitatin' over my long-past youth, and the various birthday gifts that I believe helped shape me into the man I've been, am today, and will continue to be.

This thinking was instigated by an article written by Desert Exposure owner/editor Dave Fryxell in the December 2007 issue (Continental Divide), all about his thoughts on Christmas and the toys that he received along with those attendant fond memories.

(First, though, let me say this: I believe that first and foremost, a person is molded by the genetic traits of his/her ancestors. In my case, that's the Celtic nature of the Welsh and Irish — explorers, wanderers, hunters and outdoorsmen. After that, sociology plays an important role of reinforcing that genetic influence.)

Ever since I can remember, I loved the outdoors and those activities attendant to outdoor life, like guns and bows and arrows! "Cowboys and Indians" were a way of life in my pre-teen childhood, even while at school.

My mother kept some of my early artwork from elementary school and invariably the drawings were about cowboys and Indians, usually shooting at each other, hunting critters or riding horses. One of my first birthday gifts, at the age of four or so, was a set of fancy, chrome-plated, shiny Lone Ranger revolvers in ornate leather holsters and belt. They were cap pistols, too — no phony orange plugs blocking the barrels!

Another birthday provided me with a genuine "Little Beaver" (Red Ryder's sidekick) bow and arrow set, replete with suction-cup arrow tips. It was the first of many such sets.

A third gift was a lever-action air-gun rifle; you cocked the lever and pulled the trigger and the device made a loud "pop." I loved that gun!

By the time I reached the age of nine, my pal Buddy and I were constantly in the empty fields south of Chicago, where we roamed and built forts from discarded Christmas trees and went looking for "prey." And if we didn't have a bow in hand, we had a homemade slingshot, or a crude wooden spear or maybe just a fist-sized rock to throw. During that pre-teen period I got quite proficient at hitting something with each of those instruments!

My folks were very intuitive at seeing those outdoor-related propensities in me and encouraged me all of the time. I remember my ninth birthday especially: Dad brought out a Sears and Roebuck genuine .22-caliber bolt-action rifle and a 20-year old Sears .16-gauge pump shotgun and told me to choose one for my birthday. Wow! Now that was one of my best days ever!

Knowing, but not letting on to my Pop, that I would sooner or later get whichever gun I didn't choose, I picked the .22. (I got the pump-gun on birthday number 12). From that day on I've always been a rifleman first.

At the age of 14 I received my first real bow and arrows. It was a longbow with straight, green fiberglass limbs and a 35-pound pull. It and the steel-tipped target-style arrows found targets among untold amounts of green mud-puddle frogs residing in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

If I recall correctly, I also received my first fishing pole on that day, too. It was a six-foot-long, blue fiberglass rod with a spinning reel. It got me started in enjoying a lifetime of fishing in ponds and streams. Somewhere around the place, I still have that old rod!

Dad even gave me my first leg-hold traps, because he sensed that I had an interest in that, too, even though he never trapped himself. I was 15. That gift backfired on him, though; I was sick with the stomach flu, and Dad had to go check the trap line early before dawn.

In one of the very first leg-hold sets, he came upon a very angry and agitated skunk! Pop never volunteered to go again, no matter how I pleaded deathbed sickness. I never caught another skunk in that trap line; it still makes me chuckle even today.

When I was grown and married, it was my folks who gave us our first camping gear: two Coleman, heavy, cotton-duck sleeping bags. The neat thing was — and is — that the sleeping bags could be zipped together to make one big bag and Jeri and I could snuggle together on cool summer nights in our tent.

I still have those 39-year-old bags. When the weather gets cold, those are the bags I choose to keep me warm, always zipped together to give me breathing room.

When it is all said and done, I appreciate my folks for never squashing my desires for guns and fishing rods and such and all other desires pertaining to the outdoors. In my humble opinion, it is a shame that such truck is nowadays considered politically incorrect. I'll probably never understand such a mentality, nor do I even want to nor will I ever capitulate to it.

My grandson is now four; already he has received a toy rifle and a bow and arrow set. The bow and arrows are kept here and when he comes to visit he'll come up and in a tiny voice ask Grampa if we can get it out and shoot it.

Then I'll tell him to go into the closet and bring it out while I get my coat on, and we head out back to the porch. There we will both take turns shooting arrows into the air and watching them fall to the ground.

Then I'll give the word to go fetch and he and his two-year-old sister will race to retrieve the arrows. I'll then sternly admonish them to walk back with arrows held away from them and the game will continue on. Such little things bring such joy to this old man's heart.

Hmmmm? I wonder if my ancestors' Welsh blood runs strong in my grandchildren, too?

(By the way, Dave, thanks for the provocative memories!)

As always keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you too!

Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors exclusively for Desert Exposure.

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