Illustration by David Norby, © Style Media Group.
I wasn’t exactly an only child but my brother and two sisters are quite a bit older and weren’t around much when I was little.
Around the time I was transitioning into kindergarten, one sister was transitioning into college. My brother is 13 years older and was this tall, cool guy who would occasionally breeze by the house with long hair and a face framed by sideburns that looked like cowboy boots. Until I was five, I thought my oldest sister—who was a senior in high school when I was born—was just a friend of the family. By the time I reached an age where I had a speck of awareness, they were well into their own lives. The only time we usually all converged was at Christmas. My family has always enjoyed each others’ company, so once the eggnog was flowing and the presents set aside, they fell into a grown-up world of stories and laughter where it was easy for a little kid to feel set aside, too.
But that all changed the Christmas Eve I got a BB gun. Now, this was years before Ralphie and his official “Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot range model air rifle.” I was probably nine, and mine was a single shot Daisy that spit out the BB with little more force than a watermelon seed. Nonetheless, it was what I’d asked for and I was elated. “Don’t shoot it in the house,” was my dad’s cheerful warning before ambling off toward the kitchen where voices were already rising.
As I sat on the floor, solo, trying to figure out how to load the gun, Dad suddenly reappeared. He looked at me for a moment, and then spoke up. “Hey, what good’s a BB gun if you don’t have anything to shoot it at?”
Taking it from my hands, he walked over, opened the front door and stood on the stoop. Cold air rushed in like a dog that was happy to see you. The multicolored glow of Christmas lights warmed my dad’s face. The night was dark and cloudless; I remember him remarking the lights were so bright he couldn’t see the stars. Before suddenly cocking the air rifle and handing it to me, he may have glanced over his shoulder to make sure my mom wasn’t nearby. I do recall him lowering his lanky frame to my level and saying, secretively, “Pick a light.” Huh? “Go ahead, pick one. Aim at it.” Wait.
Was my dad actually telling me it was OK to shoot out a Christmas light?
He read the disbelief on my face. “It’s a beautiful night! I wanna see the stars!” Apparently the disbelief was still there. “Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up tomorrow. We need a new set anyways. Go ahead,” he urged playfully, “Shoot!”
I drew a bead at one a few feet above my head and pulled the trigger. The bulb shattered with a startling POP. My dad let out a whoop and clapped me on the back. “You’re a dead-eye! Go ahead, shoot another one,” he said. I took aim a little further down the strand and…POP…success again. My dad shouted, “YEAH!”
His voice was loud enough to draw the rest of the family to the doorway and soon, everyone was taking turns. Even our aunt Gladys, a faded beauty whose lipstick never quite lined up with her mouth, took a turn. She missed the lights but pegged a light-up Santa. It was like a yuletide shooting gallery.
From inside the warm circle of family around me, I caught a glimpse of Mom standing in the living room, shaking her head, but smiling. I was worried she was going to put a stop to this nonsense, and it was almost my turn again.
I don’t know how long we were on that porch but we didn’t stop ’til every light was out and you could see the stars again. Perfectly.