Married with Guns

June 21, 2008


Whenever I think of guns and hunting, John and Mary come to mind.

John and I worked for the same company for a few years, an enterprise that owns a chain of quick printing stores. At the time I worked for it, the chain was owned by a very intelligent, skilled, and troublesome married couple I will discuss in other posts.  

Enough for now to say that they caused most of their employees—including John and myself—to frequently sigh and roll our eyes. The company (still around) is not Fedex Kinko’s, but their business model is similar. Quick printing companies were just beginning to install computers so customers could set their own resumes and letterheads and brochures using the earliest Macintosh computers and Apple LaserWriter printers.
I was hired to help them implement this technology for this company.
John was the marketing and advertising director for the company.
John and I gradually became work friends. The company headquarters was about a 10-minute walk along a country lane from a pizza parlor. About once a week or so, John and I would walk to the restaurant for a salad from the salad bar and a slice of pizza. During those walks, I gradually learned about John.

 John was a very gifted artist. His artistic talent expressed itself in two ways. For one thing, he was a talented cartoonist. I was writing some training manuals for customers just learning to use our computers; I used John’s cartoons for illustrations.

John was also a fine “fine artist” who painted quite well. He mostly painted wild life, especially ducks. He showed me a few of his paintings; they looked very good to my unsophisticated eye. Better judges than I also admired his work.

 For example, in most years, John submitted an entry in the national duck stamp contest. Duck stamps are not postage stamps, but serve as licenses for duck hunters and collector’s items for some people who appreciate wildlife art. Sales of duck stamps raise money for wildlife preservation. John never won the national contest, but he had made the finals several times. As there are thousands of entries each year, making the finals is quite impressive.

 John was such a good painters of ducks because he observed them very closely. He observed them very closely, because his favorite activity in life was shooting ducks.

John also had a lively sense of humor, fairly compatible with mine. For example, a stream ran along the rural street where we walked to the pizza parlor. One day we saw a few ducks paddling in the stream and John burst out laughing as he contemplated the ducks. I raised a quizzical eyebrow. John explained, “I figure if I end up in Hell, my eternal punishment will consist of thousands of ducks with guns shooting at me as I flee from them.”I met John’s wife, Mary, a few times as once in a while she picked him up at the end of the work day. Like John, she loved guns and hunting. They had two adult sons. One son was engaged in a military career; the other was a patrolman for the Oregon State Patrol. Like their parents, they also cherished guns and hunting.

They seemed like an affectionate, relaxed couple. Similar to her husband, Mary also seemed to have a lively sense of humor and a quick wit. One day John mentioned to me that when his wife had turned 40, he teased her by remarking, “I think I’ll trade you in for two 20-year old women.'”Very quick on the draw, Mary had instantly responded, “I’m sorry, John, that won’t work for you. You’re not wired for 220.”

I also learned that they had made a good living for a while as professional hunters in Africa. Mary, in fact, had grown up in Africa, a child of white European colonists in that continent. John, an avid hunter, had met her on a hunting trip. A shared interest in guns and hunting not only sparked romance and marriage, but also a profession and a life style. The started a business of leading hunting safaris for rich Americans, typically Texas oilmen who wanted to bag some African game and hang it on a wall so they could present themselves to their friends as characters from a story by Ernest Hemingway. Frequently, after their clients shot their prey and were in a jolly mood, John found it easy to sell them one of his paintings for a princely sum.


They loved their life as hunters and guides for rich wanna-be hunters, but it was not a life style with a good future. First, an economic downturn dried up the supply of white hunters hankering to go on safari and rich art collectors willing to pay high prices for pictures of ducks in flight. When business picked up again, they discovered that safaris for people with cameras were now more popular and more acceptable than safaris with guns. John and Mary found shooting with film quite boring compared to shooting with bullets. They had made a lot of money quickly with their safaris and art sales, but their profession and lifestyle had been expensive. Furthermore, young and heedless of the future they had spent money as quickly as they made it. They unhappily realized they had to head for the United States and seek out more pedestrian ways of making a living.


John’s artistic talents and experience with marketing his art and hunting expeditions led him into a career in marketing and advertising. Mary’s experience with tracking and hunting had left her handy with guns, physically fit, and good at pursuing prey. She went into a career in law enforcement. When I met her she was working as a sheriff’s deputy.

They loved guns and shooting and hunting just as some people love driving fast cars, fast boats, or fast motorcycles, or flying or jumping out of airplanes, or diving in the ocean,, or pursuing other exciting toys and activities.

There is a lot of controversy about guns in our society; some people want guns mostly banned for safety issues. Other people decry hunting and shooting birds and animals. At the other extreme, there are people, such as many members of the National Rifle Association, who consider the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution as our greatest bulwark of freedom and vigorously oppose any restrictions on use and ownership of weapons.

John and Mary fell into neither extreme. They were just fairly ordinary people who loved guns and who loved to shoot birds and animals with them. Until my recent madness with my pellet rifle, I was not much of a gun person, but I’ve never been particularly perturbed by guns or gun owners. As with any other group, people who like and use guns should be evaluated as individuals and not as a group. John and Mary struck me as perfectly sensible and responsible in their handling of firearms.

I never saw John and Mary’s house. As John described it to me, it was filled with guns and memorabilia they had collected over the years. The walls held animals and birds they had shot (fine examples of the taxidermist’s art), John’s paintings, and many fine guns (carefully unloaded).

With my sarcastic sense of humor, I sometimes wondered (but never said out loud to John), about how safe their home decorating scheme was. Even happily married couples have arguments and fights and disputes. If your house is full of every variety of firearm, doesn’t that add an extra amount of risk during a marital spat?

Sometimes people I have known as friends toss out a revelation that startles and mystifies me. One day, as we walked and chatted, John suddenly burst out with the following statement. I don’t think I had said anything to stimulate the comment, nor had any event in our environment or work life provoked it.

John suddenly said to me with some forcefullness, “When I think how terribly I treated my wife a few years ago, I am filled with shame. I am amazed that we are still married.” He offered no further explanation.

This is not the only time in my life when an acquaintance has startled me with an unexpected revelation. When astonished in such a way, I tend to remain in respectful silence rather than asking probing questions, so I didn’t question John about his surprising remark.

Had he cheated on his wife with the wife of one of rich hunters they guided? Had he engaged in physical abuse? I really don’t know, but it struck me as very dangerous indeed if your wife loves guns and knows how to use them very well, to treat her badly. It made me think there was a Hemingway story in his past. As I have little talent for writing fiction, I will leave the tale that must have been behind his remark to your imagination.








4 Responses to “Married with Guns”

  1. I don’t know why I find it so bizarre to contemplate a (seemingly)happy marriage with its roots in violent death, but hey, what do I know?

  2. modestypress Says:

    My wife did not grow up in a hunting family and as a child dearly loved her dog and cat.

    Now she longs for a gun of her own and dreams of shooting rabbits and squirrels. She never met Mary, but apparently they are sisters in spirit.

  3. pandemonic Says:

    I grew up in a hunting family. I used to be pretty handy around a shotgun. I’ve eaten rabbits, squirrels, meadowlarks (until we moved to Colorado, where it is the state bird), and all forms of hoofed animals. We were poor. If you read my post on bones, you would know we didn’t waste much.

    On some days right now, I’d like to have a gun to shoot squirrels. We have an overpopulation problem in my neighborhood. I wonder if I can get the city to provide birth control instead?

  4. modestypress Says:


    The squirrels are coming up, or perhaps, coming down would be the more appropriate term in my current hunting series.

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