Childhood Memory: Daisy BB Gun

published Apr 18, 2022
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Credit: Mary Ryan
Probably taken a little earlier than the timeline in this story, I do remember this trip with my parents to visit their friends in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. That was the car trip on which my brother and I were told that we were related to Daniel Boone and we got coonskin hats and ran around in the woods with flintlock rifles.

NOTE: These short memory stories, dropped in as they are to my Ask Maxwell column, do serve a purpose. While definitely different, my aim is to provide context for what we were thinking when we were children, which will help us to understand our own children. I find that in going back into my own childhood and sharing stories of my own struggles and what I was thinking at the time has been very helpful in connecting with my own daughter as she has grown. I would urge you to take these a little bits of inspiration to share your own childhood stories with your kids at bedtime. I guarantee you will receive rapt attention. 🙂

There was a year in my childhood when, after many years of being satisfied with sticks and cap guns, I suddenly thought about wanting a gun that shot something other than rubber bands. Not a real gun, mind you, but a BB gun, a rifle for sure, exactly what the cowboys had, so I could join them as they rode powerfully across the plains. While it wasn’t even on the horizon six months earlier, now it was and that summer I desperately wanted a BB gun. Some of my friends already had them and a few even had the more powerful version – the pellet gun – which shot thick lead pellets. While BB’s couldn’t really hurt you, pellets could and they were far better at staying on target and really kicking a tin can up in the air. But cowboys didn’t have pellet guns. Real cowboys had Daisy BB rifles.

I guess my father took me to buy my BB gun at the hardware store in town. It was a Daisy Red Ryder rifle, western style, with a leather strap and a cocking lever that looked like the kind carried on the side of a saddle, which were whipped out when they were under attack – one handed, they’d grab the lever, throw the head of the rifle down and then snap it back up – ready to shoot while they galloped ahead. We also bought a container of silver BBs that came in a paper milk carton. When we got home my father showed me how to pour the BBs into the tiny hole by cupping my hand around it in the top of front of the rifle barrel. There was a ring around it which you turned, opening up the little hole. It was tricky to get the BBs in and they often fell to the floor if you weren’t careful, but then they’d go into the barrel and you could hear them sloshing around in their, ready for their turn. One time I had the bright idea of putting a whole bunch of BBs in my mouth – right out of the carton, it seemed natural at the time – and then spitting them into the hole on the front of the barrel. It didn’t work so badly, but then I’d realized that all my BBs were wet and now inside my rifle and destined to cause rust and maybe ruin it forever. I never tried that again. The Daisy recovered. 

My dad wasn’t much one for rules, but he did give me one for the Daisy. He just said, “Be careful and don’t ever point it at anybody.” So I didn’t. But once, when Jeffery Devito came over he wanted to try my Daisy and he pointed it right at me and hit me with a BB from about twenty feet away. I was so surprised that I didn’t know what to say, but then I was upset that Jeffery had broken the rule and so angry that he could do it and I couldn’t that I went and told on him. He got into very big trouble and didn’t talk to me too much after that. 

After Jeffrey shot me I realized that my Daisy wasn’t that powerful or dangerous since the BB just bounced off my t-shirt, but because of the rule there wasn’t much one could do with a BB gun other than to sit in the yard, line up cans and shoot them down, which I did quite a bit. But that kind of fun quickly gets old, and it is the inherent danger of the gun that I realized I craved. The desire to have a gun when you’re a kid has nothing to do with marksmanship and everything to do with breaking boundaries. So, if I couldn’t point my BB gun at another kid, and hitting cans was boring I had to find something else to do – something dangerous, something that would allow me to cross over into that forbidden part of the world with my new power but, for which, I wouldn’t get in trouble. It was a tall order, but one day I decided that I would try to shoot a bird. 

It was a lovely summer day and I was all alone in the house. It was always quiet around our house, and in warm weather the doors were always open. I could feel the breeze blowing through the kitchen screen door. I poured myself a cold glass of milk, drank it straight down and, leaving my glass unwashed beside the sink – my first transgression – I picked up my Daisy and headed out the back door by the pantry into the yard. The grass was cool under my feet and I could smell all the hydrangea that my Dad had planted around the outdoor patio. I wandered down to the end of the yard by the garage and sat and waited. I’d left my rifle out in the yard overnight the week before and it had gotten rained on so I wasn’t sure how well it would shoot. It was a little rusty and it never seemed to shoot straight anyhow. 

Watching for birds, I saw a little finch with yellow on its wings settle on a branch not far away. Here was my chance. Having never shot a living thing in my life, I was going to do it right now, and I wasn’t even breaking any rules. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I even managed to hit this little bird. Perhaps I would hit it and scare it away. Probably I’d miss. I couldn’t imagine anything else.

I felt something primal and connected as I raised my rifle and looked down the barrel at the little yellow bird, sitting patiently on his branch. I remember the shape of his wings and the bright spark in his eyes as he looked around the yard. He seemed to know I was there, but wasn’t worried at all. He didn’t fly away. 

I pulled the trigger and I could feel the kick of the stock against my face – It always hurt a bit when you put your face against the stock. The bird was gone. I got up from the grass and walked over to the tree and I could see the yellow feathers motionless on the grass. All of a sudden I was overcome. What had I done? From shooting cans in the yard I was now responsible for taking this life and the enormity of what I had done completely overwhelmed me. I was in shock, ashamed and somehow I now needed to quickly cover my tracks and make things right. No one could ever know about this. 

I picked up the bird and carried him to the edge of the flower planter by the side of the garage. He was so light, he felt like he wasn’t there. I got some sticks and dug out a shallow hole and lowered him in. From sitting on a branch, alert and bright eyed only minutes earlier I was surprised how quiet he was and how completely changed he’d become. The life that was inside of him had vanished and flown away leaving his little body with all his bright feathers – a perfect, bright yellow little bird that seemed to be sleeping in the hole.  

I covered him up with dirt and said a few words, apologizing to God for what I’d done and quietly left the planter. Walking back across the grass to the house, I climbed the back steps. I could feel the cool air of the house coming towards me as I put my BB gun inside the back door, propped in the corner. I washed my milk glass and put it in the rack, and I never picked up my Daisy again. 

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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