No Guns For Old Men
Her 89-year-old father finally agreed to assisted living. But hadn't agreed to give up his guns
There’d be no behind-the-scenes strategizing. No confrontations across the mid-century Formica kitchen table. My 89-year-old father had come to his own conclusion to put the house up for sale and move into senior living after he’d gone out to the garage for a screwdriver, lost his balance, and got himself wedged between the snowblower and the car.
He had left his cane and his flip phone in the kitchen (he won’t replace it with a smartphone because, according to him, it’s smart enough). He managed to wriggle free after awhile, but because he had hit his knee on the edge of the workbench, he had to crawl back to the house on his belly as if he were on the beach at Normandy.
He told this to me and my sister Linda over brunch.
“Dad! You could have died!” she said.
“But I didn’t!” he said.
We found him a nice, one-bedroom apartment in an upscale senior community where women outnumber the men four to one. He caused several fluffy blue-haired heads to turn when we took the tour.
My sister pointed to the “No weapons allowed!” paragraph in the glossy brochure, under the photo of the grinning (but vibrant) elderly couple.
My father winced. He made her read the paragraph out loud. Again. Then once more just in case he hadn’t heard her right.
“Not even the handguns? I’ve only got five!” he said, as if he was trying to add another person to a dinner reservation at the last minute. “What about my shotguns? My rifles?”
“No guns, Dad,” she said.
He had hunted ducks. Deer (regular boring northern Wisconsin type and more exotic Wyoming Pronghorned type). He had been a police officer. He had guns.
I counted two shotguns and three rifles inside the fancily carved gun cabinet — the one my mother bought for him on their 40th wedding anniversary — guns that looked like the kind John Wayne would have used to settle a score. Single Barrel. Wood stocks. One had pump action.
“I’ve got a World War II carbine somewhere,” he said from deep inside what had been my mother’s closet.
He came back with four more rifles. Three more shotguns. He brought out the .38 special, a six-shooter, the one he had worn holstered and strapped to his side for forty years. More rifles came from under the bed. More shotguns from behind the bookcase. We spread his arsenal on the bed — on top of the duck hunting — themed quilt my mother had made — like we had just uncovered a cache from a drug bust.
He hooked his thumbs inside his red suspenders. Shook his head. Was this a deal breaker?
I said a silent prayer to my departed mother to please whisper into his ear. Something about it being hard, but the right thing to do? I couldn’t take another winter worrying about whether there’d be a repeat of the screwdriver incident, only instead of D-Day, he’d be Ernest Shackelton and I’d find him frost-covered with a tool in his frozen hand, wedged between the car and snowblower?
“I got that one when I was 12.” He pointed to a rifle with a burled stock.
He gently lifted a double-barrel shotgun off an airborne pair of mallards. “This one I bought right before we got married. I almost sold it to pay the hospital bill after you were born.”
And now he had to say goodbye to old friends that had served him well, supplying us with venison salamis, pheasant breasts, so many ducks à l’orange.
Word spread. Pals came sniffing around, gathering in small packs at the end of the driveway, like dogs had done that time our old Labrador, Shadow, had gone into heat.
Lucrative offers were made, the kind a person would have been crazy not to take. This new phase would mean making adjustments. He’d have to let go of the house that had been home for 63 years, the one he and my mother bought after they got married, the one she said she’d never leave unless it was feet first, and in 2013 she had.
We’d leave behind the dogs we buried in the yard, our DNA embedded in the concrete driveway from roller skating fails, and the guns. They would stay in the family. In a safe. The combination known only to Dad and the other party involved. He could visit them. Take them out. Make sure they were being looked after properly.
(To be continued…) Mel Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal. She will be writing a monthly serialized column for Covey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Her previous articles for Covey include “When We Were Hot.”