Yesterday in the afternoon I took M- down to the city to go ice-skating, and took the old rifle into the gun shop for the gunsmiths to work on.
This is a very nice gun and other sporting goods store, but it still has that haze of testosterone as you come through the door. I was directed to the counter where firearms that need work are signed in, and went to wait there. Next to me was a somewhat jittery fellow who was, it turned out, in lust for a Beretta shotgun in a rack behind the counter. But first, he glanced at me, and the old rifle wrapped in a pillowcase, and said the words no man should ever say to a woman..."Is that your gun or your husband's?"
No, no, a thousand times no.
I sweetly (too sweetly if you knew me) said it was mine, and my mother had traded for it many years ago. Do you see the lineage, sir? This is a matrilineal rifle, at least that far. (Not any farther because that particular rifle began its days in another family; my mother traded her Colt Woodsman for it.) About then, the salesman came up and my not-friend asked to hold the Beretta. Well, yes, the salesman said, and handed it over. The fellow broke it open, snapped it shut (and it is a lovely piece of work) and then...then he started enacting a bird hunt with it, swinging it around , bringing it up and down as if there were pigeons all over the inside of the store.
I was not thrilled. The fellow went on talking about his other guns, his hunting experience, the wonderful time he'd had quail hunting in Mexico, all the time doing a fair imitation of Cheney about to shoot someone in the face. Had I been the clerk, I think I'd have said something rather firm (on the other of "Who the blankety-blank didn't teach you about gun etiquette, you fool!" but it's not my store and I made sure to sway out of the way of the muzzle as seemed wise. (Technically, the shotgun was unloaded. Practically speaking, all firearms are loaded all the time. (And they can fool you, too. I've found the odd round nestling in one of mine on the second check...) Finally he indicated that he hadn't yet convinced his wife he could buy this shotgun...which from my background means he didn't have the money but would rather people thought he was henpecked than admit his eyes were bigger than his wallet.
The salesmen then cast eyes over the old rifle, which is probably my age or older and which has had some condition issues for awhile. Wrote up the ticket, and carried it away upstairs to the gunsmiths' attic. Customers do not carry their own weapons up there or back...very prudent of the store, I think, after watching some of its customers.
I grew up in a region where most people had firearms, many adults (men and women) were experienced with them and some were downright expert, and most of us kids had been given lessons by the time we were eight or nine. Most of the men I knew were WWII veterans, and so were some of the women (nurses, mostly) but also a lot of them were country people. Firearms weren't showpieces, or something to brag on--they were the source of rabbits for the stew, a way to keep coyotes off the sheep, the death of rattlesnakes. Out-of-region hunters who came down with fancy high- priced shotguns or rifles were quietly chuckled about, out of their earshot; anyone who hunted with an autoloader was quietly despised. There were people who came into the hardware store on a Saturday and bought one or two rounds (not boxes: individual rounds) of .22 ammo and then went out and shot dinner. Not one of those grownups who taught me and the other kids about gun safety would've been swinging that fancy shotgun around in the store....