Christmas time is nigh upon us.
Kids must be getting pretty excited as the days tick down. When I was growing up, this time of year put me on pins and needles. Had I been good enough? Had I been a little too naughty?
I love the movie, A Christmas Story, starring Peter Billingsley. First released in 1983, it’s now a true Christmas classic. Little Ralphie is obsessed with getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The movie does a masterful job of reminding one what it is like to be a child once again.
I remember pining for a Red Ryder myself. I had just about worn the catalog page it was pictured on threadbare. On the night of our Christmas play, at the old white-sided Highcliff Baptist Church, Santa delivered my very own Red Ryder. This was probably about 1972. I can vividly remember running up the road toward home, with that long box tucked underneath my arm.
It was already dark, so I bundled up and stood out underneath the electric pole with a night light on it.
I twanged away Daisy Golden Bullseye BBs into the wee hours of the morning. My little arms weren’t used to cocking a Red Ryder, which took considerable effort for an eight or nine-year-old kid. I sure was sorry the next day. I had blisters in the bend of my thumb and Charlie horses in my arms muscles from wrestling that thing half the night long.
Oh the agony that followed such immense pleasure.
I fired that old rifle tens-of-thousands of times over the next few years. I still have it, though it is inoperable, the firing mechanism long ago worn out. It was my constant companion on many childhood adventures.
One misadventure got me into trouble with it. I took note, one hot summer day, of a huge hornets’ nest on the side of an old smokehouse. I steadied my trusty rifle on the side of a clothesline post and sent a BB arcing into the nest. A few hornets buzzed out in anger.
Pretty cool, I reasoned in my mind.
I cocked my rifle and applied the proper elevation to send another BB into the nest, a good 100 feet or so away. This BB too scored a direct hit, sending a few more hornets out in a gosh-awful rage. What fun I thought.
I sent the third BB arcing into the nest, and so help me, an observant hornet had taken a line of sight bearing from whence the BBs were coming. It lit on the front sight of my still shouldered Red Ryder and waved a hind leg for all its buddies to come on in a hurry. I can still recall peering into those multi-faceted insect eyes and coming to the sad realization I was a had lad.
And I was.
I had hornets investigate every clothing opening in my clothing, enter therein, and set fire to this Little Tidwell Feller’s hide beneath. That made all the blisters and sore muscles the Red Ryder had given me, on our get acquainted session, seem like child’s play.
The boys in our neighborhood also formed a BB gun cavalry. Most of us had a pony, so it was a natural progression to mount up with our air rifles and take to the hills. I even took a plain white handkerchief and drew our cavalry logo on it with a permanent marker. Oh the fun we had.
Air rifle qualification for the BB gun cavalry was particularly treacherous however. Discarded soda and beer cans, our targets of choice, were made out of thick metal back in those days. Most air rifles would only shoot into one side of the can, leaving the BB to spin around inside and make a cool noise. Every once in a while, a BB would ricochet off a can and cause a shooter to let out a yelp from the firing line when they were impacted.
One cold winter day, with a big snow on, my pony bolted for home. I knew when we left the fields, in a thunder of hooves, and my pony hit the packed down, icy road, I was in for some serious trouble.
Sure enough, old Bim’s feet went out from under her and we went scooting down that slick road. But the old Red Ryder and I survived to knock pop cans over another day.
Little Ralphie isn’t the only boy to ever experience the ups and downs of Red Ryderism- I’ve been there too!