I grew up in a household with 4 boys and no girls. Without meaning to suggest that girls are not, I can definitively say that boys are curious by nature. There came a time when my parents brought home some Christmas presents early in December and it became our life’s mission to find out where those presents were hidden, what they were, guess who they belonged to and ultimately play with them long before Santa brought them down our non-existent chimney.
I was the second oldest of the 4 boys, the first three approximately two years apart. We were all quite different in personality. The oldest was quieter and had some nerdish traits preferring chess and airplanes to sports. I was perhaps the most reckless and got into far more trouble than my older brother. The one two years below me was able to learn from his two older brothers and got into less trouble while being slightly more devious and the youngest was but a baby at this time and not a participant in this particular story.
Because both our parents worked, we were home alone for at least brief periods most days. We had chores we were responsible for which should have taken up much of that time but there was always time to get into something and the mission to discover those presents was a top priority. The detached garage was eliminated early on, most everything was clearly visible and while there was an attic, a quick search utilizing the pull down ladder eliminated that as a possibility. Because we’d glimpsed the sizes of some of the boxes, many potential locations in our house were eliminated because they didn’t have the capacity to hold the items in question. We’d settled on my parent’s bedroom as the only remaining possibility which we’d pretty much saved for last as that was known to be forbidden territory. I don’t recall which of my brothers went with me but we eventually gathered up the courage and began the search. It didn’t take long to focus on the closet and we discovered bags containing yet to be wrapped presents including the ultimate prize a remote control Jaguar XKE. We were not deterred by the need for batteries as we were able to strip them from discarded toys from earlier times and we played with that car until we thought it no longer safe and then boxed it back up until the next opportunity.
Christmas finally came, the Jaguar went to my older brother who would never appreciate it as much as I would have. I got a model airplane which within hours of being put together, was destroyed by my younger brother who “wanted to see if it could fly”. The story could have ended there but another item discovered during the search of the closet was a gun.
We had no knowledge there was a gun in the house or for what purpose. Until Christmas passed it was sufficient to play with the toys and revel in our secret time but the knowledge of the gun was always there. My brothers and I didn’t discuss it ever and I have no idea if they harbored the curiosity that I did. It was fairly rare that I found myself home alone but on one such occasion, I was determined to satisfy my curiosity about the gun. I slinked back to the closet; it was still there on an upper shelf behind some other items. It was unloaded but there were some bullets of different sizes in a box and I took one I believed would fit. I was dying to fire a gun and searched my brain for the best way to do it. I went down to the basement, where there was an approximately 3 foot x 3 foot closet containing the water heater which was the only spot in the home with a dirt floor. The plan that shaped in my then 11 year old brain, was to fire the gun into the dirt where it would no doubt go straight down leaving little evidence that I could easily cover up. I hadn’t calculated for the noise which would likely be heard at least a few houses away as there were windows from the basement to the outside.
I loaded the gun; aimed and pulled the trigger… and nothing happened. They say God protects fools and little children and he got two for one that day. The “dirt floor” was packed so hard that there would have been no possibility for the bullet not to ricochet. At best I could have killed a water heater, at worst me. I thought at the time it may have been the wrong size bullet. Later I wondered if there was a safety that kept me from accomplishing something very foolish. A warning to those that keep guns, whatever safety measures you employ, a determined child may have the means to overcome them. Others may not be as lucky as I was that day.