A handsome older man came around our house when I was young. I knew that he had a dramatic and somewhat murky past, and I knew that he was my grandfather. Protected from almost anything unpleasant in my family of origin, I knew no details. Sometimes he was charming, singing songs in a beautiful and moving voice. Sometimes he roared. I did know that whenever he came around, my mother changed. She became tense, cautious, protective. Before I can remember a word of caution spoken, I had learned to fear the old man.
There was a palpable and deep intensity, sadness, and rage in him. I did not know why until I was a middle-aged woman.
Year after year, small dramatic encounters played out where I eavesdropped on the raised voices between my beloved parents and the old man. Let’s call him John Sebastian. I was never once left alone with John, and I never went for a ride with him in his cars. When I visited his house, which was rare, I was in the perfect care of my mother. Maybe twice, I went to John’s house with my father or was dropped off for a short visit. At those times, my grandmother took very good care to stick close by.
Some time in childhood, John had a terrible car crash with urgent calls from the hospital. I saw my father in enormous pain and anxiety at this time as he flew insanely fast to the hospital. Again, only shadowy details flicker in my memory. A stronger memory is when the call came regarding my Grandmother on fire. Apparently, she threw the daily garbage into the burn pile/pit and an aerosol can of hair spray exploded in her face and torso. After the burn unit, she came to live with us for recuperation and rehabilitation. Her pain and suffering was beyond my comprehension and terrible in every way. Angry voices again, from a distance, regarding money, expenditures, past grievances, and John Sebastian’s failures and short-comings.
I saw fear in my Mother’s eyes.
Eventually, the house with its dramatic Southern pecan grove came to be in our care. My parents hired some teenagers from our church to help move everything out and clean it. They went back to church and told my friends that my grandparents house was horrid. This also seemed to be John’s fault for not allowing any help to come inside his home.
My grandparents moved into a mobile home in rural wooded acreage that they owned, and actually I think my grandmother moved into nursing home care at about that same time. I was forbidden to go inside my grandfather’s mobile home. I heard that he hid jars stuffed with money all around the property. Which was interesting.
The quarrels about living arrangements, religion, grandmother’s care, finances, and goodness knows what else grew in intensity and frequency. Dimly heard. Fearful in nature, fear built up inside me even more than ever.
One day my grandfather visited our home when only my Mother and I were home. Isolated on wooded acreage, no one could see or hear us if we called for help. I hid in my bedroom. Sure enough, an argument began and I heard my Mother’s voice rising and becoming higher pitched and shaking. I quietly crept into my parent’s room and retrieved a loaded pistol. I was unsure about shotguns and rifles, but I had been taught from about age 10 to shoot the pistol “just in case.” I was about 12 years old, and it was the 1970s. I took the pistol and slowly crept down first one hall and then another, crouched low to the carpet, leaning against the paneled walls. I waited there, cocked the pistol, and prepared to shoot my grandfather. I wasn’t stupid, unusually emotionally troubled, or violent in any way. I just knew that I had to protect my mother because no one else was there.
Tables were pounded. I tensed up even more. Then things began to subside and John Sebastian stormed out the door. I carefully took the pistol back to its usual place and never mentioned anything.
Our family were church leaders, neighborhood leaders, leaders in education, and relatively wealthy. Everyone in the neighborhood knew us, as well as many branches of my extended family. We were proud, good citizens, generous. My brothers and I played in the church orchestra, and sometimes I played the piano for Sunday School and worship service. I was inevitably treated fairly, looked after, and nurtured in the greater village. My education was of great importance, and I was taken to libraries several times a week. We vacationed abroad, as well as domestically. While a serious child, my family did their best to teach me to play like other kids. My eyesight and lower limbs and feet were not quite right. Later, I was proud that I was a decent shot at target practice, despite the bad eyesight. Hunting season was a joyous time in our family. “The boys” went off to the mountain states which left my Mother and I to our own devices – delicious! When the boys came home with venison and elk, we had it processed into many types of food and leather products. Waste not, want not. This honors the game. Mounted racks and heads decorated the family room.
A couple of decades after I almost killed John Sebastian and endangered my Mother, I understood everything so much better. John had been raised in a private orphanage, due to the death of his father, a Spanish citizen. He had plenty of money, but hoarded it out of insecurity. He had beaten his sons as he raised them because he had been beaten as a form of discipline. He experienced a range of emotions like anyone else. He danced, flattered the ladies, hunted, bought and sold real estate, harvested his beloved pecan grove, fished and traveled the state of Texas. He was a deputized sheriff. He read extensively, held strong opinions, and was reflective as well. He was just a sad old man when I almost killed him.
Needless to say, had I shot him (or my Mother by accident) that day, my life would not have included law school, a political appointment to public service, five wonderful children and grandchildren, degrees in history, decades of precious students, nor a lifetime of glorious travel and residency around the world.
I could write at least five more narratives, all just as personal, that help explain why I firmly support more sophisticated legislation regarding guns in the homes of our citizenry, as well as gun education, increased dialogue about the Second Amendment interpretation of the right to bear arms, enforcement, and the gun culture of many of our Southern, Southwestern, and Western states in the U.S.A. It should not be taboo to discuss this; it should be required.