3I Adventures with Guns: He Really Did Shoot his Eye Out
August 1, 2007
Some children, such as my junior high classmate, Jackie, grew up with real guns and learned to shoot at real bullets at an early age. (That is not a typing error, as you shall see.) Other children, like me, grow up with pacifist grandmothers, such as my father’s mother, Agnes, who abhorred letting children play with toy guns and other “war toys.”
As a teenager, I was much influenced by the humorist Jean Shepherd. I’ve been watching Seinfeld videos lately, and I was amused to read that this very successful comedian lists Shepherd as one of his biggest influences.
At the inception of World War II, my father joined the army. Besides having a patriotic motivation to defend his country, I suspect he was moved by a desire to get away from his mother and to “stick it in her eye” (as the saying goes) by becoming a soldier. As he was sent to India to defend it against a Japanese attack that never came, he did get a long way away.
After WWII, my father’s sister, Naomi, who had dreams of being a ballerina (and did dance in the chorus line of a road company production of the musical, Oklahoma), moved to California, perhaps to seek her fortune as a dancer in films. She may also have been trying to get away from her mother as well.
After my father demobilized, following the lead of his sister, he took my mother and me (now five years old) to California, perhaps still fleeing Agnes. I have a slight recollection of crossing the Rocky Mountains as we rode the train across the continental divide.
After they got to California, they took me to a pony farm that took photographs of children sitting on little steeds. I once saw the picture taken at that time showing me sitting on a pony dressed in a cowboy outfit with two little cap guns in holsters strapped to my waist. They sent this picture of me to Grandma Agnes, who predictably “had a cow.”
Shepherd did a variety of work in radio, television, print, and movies. He is best known for his work in the movie, A Christmas Story, a movie based on his writing and which he narrated. The young hero of the movie, Ralphie, desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, despite warnings from adults that he will “shoot his eye out.”
When I was a junior high school student in the small Orange County, California town of Brea, I did not own a BB gun, though I remember wanting one.
My classmate, Jackie, whose father was a hunter, did own a BB gun. One day he stole a real bullet from his Dad’s ammunition supply, placed it into a cleft in a tree, and began firing at it with his BB gun. He hit it; the bullet exploded and launched itself, hitting Jackie in the eye. As this took place around 1955, I have no documentation to back this up, but it really happened.
Jackie survived, and eventually came back to school with a glass eye. We (his fellow classmates) were much impressed. Years later, it occurs to me that with his talent for making “bank shots,” Jackie could perhaps have become a great pool shark, perhaps known as “One Eye Jackie.” On the other hand, with only one eye, his depth perception might have been forever ruined, perhaps making “One Shot Wonder Jackie” a better nickname for him.
Adventures with guns will continue