We have the golf widow, the club widow, any number of temporary widows-but I ask you, is there anything more soul-destroying, more boring, than a husband who is a gun crank? Take, for example, the occasion when Mr. Peep Sight calls on Mr. Bolt Action, bringing Mrs. Peep with him. The two women could leave the house, take in a dance, a theater, and a movie, return home in the wee sma' hours, and find that their collective husbands had never even known they were gone! If the ladies do stay at home they will entirely have exhausted: Clothes; the new hats; children; cosmetics; cards; scandals near, far, old and new; food; blondes; anything-else-you-can-think-of, and then find two surprised and injured husbands when Mrs. Peep undertakes to drag the mister home.
One can stand for that, occasionally; but that Sunday after Sunday on the range, just pecking away at a piece of paper, with wife and child entirely forgotten-it gets old. It implants a bitter seed that gets watered so thoroughly that it grows and grows until divorce loses its horns and tail, and becomes a sweet image suffused with golden light. You figure on new curtains-you simply must have new curtains-and when you are clearing your throat one pleasant evening to call the bread-winner's attention to the rags draping the windows, he is deep in a little book. Before you can penetrate his consciousness-if any-he announces in a glad, ringing voice:
"Here's just the thing I've wanted! I believe if I get one of these sights I can lick Pistol Grip! Pistol isn't really so hot, it's just his sights and that gun of his. Only eight dollars for this one, and Gold Bead Smith won't charge me much for putting it on. I believe I'll order that right now."
Well, you do one of two things. Either you blast him with the dammed-up flood of gun grievances until you are holding your arms high and shrieking "Guns! Guns!" so that he has to clout you on the head and stretch you out cold; or you arise, give him a long, heart-broken look, silently sneak off to bed and thoroughly wet the pillow, hoping he finds you a sweet lily-white corpse in the morning.
What happens then? He is entirely blind to your wan, tragic face next morning. He dashed off to get his order in the mail, never even noticing that your breakfast is untasted. He runs about in circles waiting for the sight to arrive. He throws books and magazines right and left looking for "that article," accusing you of having thrown it away, and offering no apologies later when he discovers he has loaned the magazine to a fellow crank. He runs more circles until Gold Bead gets the sight in place. He rises with the dawn the following Sunday, and beats it out to the range, even forgetting to kiss you good-by. Not, you bitterly reflect, that it matters. You know well enough that the evening will be given over to alibis, old and new. They always are.
Being a woman, and married, I am a natural cross-bearer; but one cross too many was heaved on me. We were then on a ranch, and there came a letter announcing company.
Put yourself on a Western ranch, 100 miles from a railroad, 10 miles from a measly village, 4 miles from neighbors-such as they were. People who could speak the king's English, or, well, if not the king's, anyhow, English! Company! A direct gift from the gods!
I fed them justly famous cornmeal pancakes for breakfast. I browned roasts as they had never been browned before. My dumplings dimpled, my pies were huge smiles. It all might as well have been sawdust. "Have some spuds, Ballistic-at 600 yards you simply got to figure on a mirage, and if you haven't got an A-1 telescope-" "A little more meat, Gunny-I don't really believe in sighting shots, after you once got your gun set. We got a man in our club-" "Oh, the biscuits, Mrs. Gunny? Yes, they were very nice-two years ago when I was at Perry-"
It was the last straw. The cross had busted me clean in two. I wept, both softly and loudly. I hated Gunny, all his works, all his friends, and especially the friends. I was glad they had gone. I hoped they all went down the deepest canyon at the divide, and broke their necks in three places. I would take my husband's favorite gun by the barrel, and bring the stock down on his head until one or the other smashed-preferably both.
Well, one doesn't weep forever, and both husband and gun were out somewhere, anyhow. So I sat and thought. We would be leaving the ranch soon, and that meant rifle clubs again. True, I hated Gunny, but still-well- Thought in time brought reason, of a sort. Starting, then, from the ground up: I didn't like guns. They were, so to speak, my enemies. Now then, I asked, just why didn't I like guns? I didn't really know anything about them. For all I knew they might be interesting-there really must be something about them.
Very well, I would find out. I would surprise and possibly delight my lord and master (a technical title) by asking him about his affinities. I did-and he was. It wound up with a delighted husband leading an eager wife into the yard. Eager on the outside, that is. "Oh no, Dearie, I wanted to shoot a big gun-I want to shoot what you do!"-it's so easy to fool a man. He often remarked, later, how calmly I pulled the trigger on that Mauser. I really expected the end of the world, and was a most surprised mortal when, after the blast, my ears were intact, nothing had kicked me, the gun was still in my hands. Call it accident if you like; I think it was the just reward of my noble resolve, when I came close to the black, in the four ring. You can't tell me that the particular guardian of guns didn't reach out a hand, grab that bullet, and stick it through there. But ah and alas! The hand then came up to me and put a brand on me, so that never, never, would I be again the same.
I'd like to say that life now assumed a new aspect. I'd like to tell how I mixed batter with a gun barrel, and decorated a darling lampshade with powder and designs made with bullets. But all achievement is the result of hard labor and determination. I had to learn, gradually, to like the things. I had to put that eager smile on my face and pull a steady trigger with never a flinch or the batting of an eye, when I wanted to run away and hide. I had to ask about the merits of this and that gun, happy to find if but one little thing held my interest. I had to lay down an interesting book and listen, enraptured, to monologs on guns. I had to reach eagerly for The Rifleman when told of a certain article. (I shall always hate the name Crossman, for that.)
Why did I? I couldn't see any other way. I was not going to be like Mrs. Spring Field, who worked herself into a rage every time she passed "his" gun cabinet. Oh, those gun cabinets! Or, like Mrs. Lever Action, cousin to Bolt, who actually got a divorce from Lever because of his guns. I was sick, too, of crosses, borne meekly or otherwise.
My reward finally came when we left the ranch and I, overalled, went out to the range with friend husband. I and gone out many times in the past, of course, sitting in the car, bored to tears. But this time I lugged my own gun (it represented not only new curtains, but a dress or two besides), loaded it, and stood up beside a dapper, rather shocked young man. Naturally he beat me, but my score wasn't at all bad. And when we moved to 500 yards my score, the first one, was 46! Was it a grand and glorious feeling? And a few weeks later the man sprawled out beside me at the same range threw down his gun and went home because his score was below mine. Some men take it so hard!
I wish Mrs. Peep Sight and Mrs. Bolt Action would get in the game. It's so much more fun packing a lunch basket to take along out to the range on Sunday-to get there in the morning when the light is good-than to give Peep a grudging kiss when he leaves. Or worse, not kiss him at all. Much more fun to sit of an evening and live the day over again, speculating on the if's and when's, and arguing on the relative merits of sights, and how hard it is to use an issue Springfield when your arm is as long as mine and the short stock wallops you; and isn't Sam Expert a short sport, and what a pity,too.
Next year I am going to Camp Perry. It would be a pity to stay away; for haven't I a swell alibi, which everyone agrees should never, never, be wasted? Living in the high, dry mountain country of the Southwest, and going to the low, hot lake climate, with rain and mosquitoes and everything-the alibi works every day, at every range!
I think the N.R.A. should issue a special medal for gun cranks' wives who play the game with them-a solid gold one, with curlicues all over it, for those like me who laboriously, and against a natural inclination, become bona-fide members of the Grand Order of Targeteers.
Still, we got our reward without a medal, at that.