Thursday, August 20, 2009

Guns and Guitars

Apple polly loggies--and a shiny gold dubloon for whoever gets that references--for the delay in posts, but I was busy hanging out with my parental units, which meant I indulged in some questionable behavior: shooting, dancing, drinking, raising hell, making an ass out of myself--basically all the stuff that makes my family awesome.

For example: this is my Daddio. This is his bear skull. I look just like him (Daddio, not the bear), minus the cigar. He taught me everything I know about shooting a gun, catching a fish, foraging in the woods, and singing the blues. I just got back from a trip to the inland northwest to visit him, and true to form, we did all of the above on a weekend excursion to Priest Lake, Idaho.

I could talk about the pleasures of shooting a gun--the way those explosions just drive the frustration over being broke right out of you--or what it's like to pick huckleberries in the woods, or even about listening to Daddio's band playing the blues at the Elkin resort. But to really get the feel for my Daddio and what kind of guy he is, I think I said it best in my G.A.N. (Great American Novel) in progress. Please enjoy this exerpt from the chapter, "Ocean View on the Rocks."

"My father is the coolest guy I know. He’s so cool Nai’a and I don’t even call him Dad or Daddy or Papa. We call him Daddio.

My Daddio is a blues musician. He likes to hunt and fish and shoot guns; he likes Muddy Waters and B.B. King and nonfiction books about the beauty and savagery of pre-Western contact civilizations of South America; he likes to make his own bullets and sausage, preferably as two parts of the same project.

When I was four, I perched on a stool in his workshop in the big house on Bamboo Lane and announced, “I’m going to be a writer when I grow up.”

“A writer?” he repeated with a grin, our matching blue eyes gazing at one another. “I thought you wanted to be a seashell scientist.” An academic pamphlet on seashells had recently appeared in our house, who knows from where or when, just another piece of flotsam washed up on the Heap ‘O Crap that used to be the dining room table. I’d found it underneath a pile of disposable chopsticks and paper plates that Daddio bought so he would never have to do dishes, and it had become my latest favorite book.

“I want to be seashell scientist or a writer,” I clarified. I already had a small collection of cowry and puka shells at the other house, my mom’s house, in an old jelly jar, but I wanted better shells, like the fantastic pink and purple creations I saw in the pamphlet. If I was a scientist, I could get all of the seashells that I wanted—whole rooms full of shells! Shells big enough to sit in!—and if that didn’t work out, I had writing as my ace in the hole. As soon as I learned to read and write, I knew I’d be great at it.

Daddio wrote down a measurement on a sheet of paper and carefully filled a bullet cartridge with gunpowder. Of course he knew all about guns and bullets and gunpowder, because he was manly and strong and that’s what manly, strong men know. When he told me to cover my ears, step back from the dog, or don’t touch that, I obeyed instantly. As long as I obeyed instantly what he said, then I wouldn’t be hurt. He knew exactly how to keep me safe.

Today he was making bullets for his Molokai deer hunt. I’d overheard him talking to his best friend, my Uncle Billy, complaining that the bullets he’d made for his rifle weren’t getting the distance he needed for deer, so we were in the workshop today, trying out different combinations of powder, bullets, and cartridges.

Daddio measured gunpowder on one of the little scales you could find in high school science labs and kitchen counters all over Ocean View. Then he took a used cartridge—the metal cylinder that falls out of the gun when it fires a bullet—and put it in the press. Because I’d been a good girl and hadn’t wet the bed last night, he let me pull the lever that forced the bent and twisted cartridge back into its proper shape. It was set high because he was so tall, so he had to pick me up and hold me there, my legs dangling in space. I was allowed to pull the lever again once he’d filled the cartridge with gunpowder and carefully balanced a metal bullet on top.

“The hammer in the gun falls and ignites the powder in the cartridge,” Daddio explained, holding the new bullet horizontally and demonstrating the mechanism with his huge, wide fingers. “The explosion of the gunpowder shoots the bullet up here through the gun barrel. Now, the barrel—” He hoisted one of his rifles up off the ground and pointed it toward the open garage door. “—contains the explosion, so the force is all focused in one direction.”

Standing behind me and holding the weight of the gun in his arms, Daddio placed the butt of the rifle against my shoulder and gently pushed my head down so I was staring down the sight with his big, soft belly against my back. I imagined what it would look like, if there was a deer at the other end. I wondered would happen when I killed it. I didn’t think I could.

“We’ll start you off on a little .22 when you’re older,” he said, propping the gun against the wall and going back to the press. “Something light. A Winchester. How about that?”

“Ho-kay,” I agreed, telling myself to imagine a Hunter Rachie, with big boots and a big gun, creeping through the misty forest at dawn with Daddio. The lava rocks crackle under our feet with a sound like glass breaking, and Daddio whispers, Hush, sheep ahead. Through a gap in the trees, I see a herd of mufflon, their horns glowing gently in the early dawn. Daddio falls back so I can make the kill, and I inch forward, squatting on my haunches. Then I raise the gun to my shoulder, fitting the butt into that groove between shoulder and collarbone that God made special just for guns—

His watch beeped. “Time to pick up your sister from the bus stop! Let’s go, Nana-buggah, I wanna get to the cinder cone to test this ammo out before it gets dark.”

The mufflon sheep leap away down the lava flow and I scrambled to the floor, clapping my hands to wake our three-legged guard dog, Malia, who would have to protect the guns and guitars while we were away. I was relieved; now I could daydream again of fairies, tree spirits, and magic things, and forget about death for a while.

Daddio put on a baseball cap with a Kona marlin stitched on it to protect his perfectly bald head against the Hawaii sun and stood, big and solid as a tree, beside the Jeep so he could strap me into my car seat. We were in no hurry. No one is ever in any hurry in my Hawaii."

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