My father plays out his cowboy self with a .22 pistol the year we live in Sunnyvale for his temporary job in California. Some Saturdays, he takes my brother and me out to a gravel pit in the hills for target practice. I aim for those concentric circles off in the distance, just like my father shows me. The kickback, relatively small, makes my ten-year-old arm jump. My father kneels behind my brother, only six, to hold his arm up when it’s his turn.
Afterwards, we study the little holes we made in the target paper, unable to tell whose is whose. Together in the faint autumn sunlight—Central California before the rains and the smell of dry leaves and my father’s suede jacket and his Chesterfields all mix together. It always hangs around him, that outlaw smell, but he was never really an outlaw himself. He didn’t have the heart for it.
It’s that Thanksgiving my father shoots himself in the thigh practicing his “quick draw,” like on “Gunsmoke,” my brother’s toy plastic holster strapped to his leg, Jim Beam by his side. The women and kids are back at the house helping my aunt clean up dinner when my uncle brings him hobbling in, blood streaming down his leg. They don’t bleed on television shows in those days, and we all stare in fascination. “He got me. He got me. The S.O.B. got me,” my father, the great kidder, moans in mock agony.
My mother takes him to the hospital where they pull the bullet out and stitch him up. The story becomes a family joke, a neighborhood joke, a workplace joke, a bar joke, a story about how tough my father is that morphs into a story about how cool and ironic my father is as I grow old enough to want to be cool and ironic myself.
One of his buddies makes for him a commemorative wooden plaque—a two foot by ten inch piece of pine stained a dark brown and carved with the tribute: “Dick ‘Quick Draw’ Buckmaster. November 24, 1960.” Mounted in the center like a trophy fish, smaller than you would expect, is the bullet, the legend being larger than reality, as legends usually are.
Copyright, 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster