Man the hunter as a 10 yr old with a b-b gun
The fat wren tipped over. Fluttered its wings. Rolled off the garage roof across the yard and fell to the ground. I was stunned. I hadn’t thought I would ever hit one, let alone kill it. I knelt next to the little bird. I felt bad, started to tell myself or God or someone that I didn’t mean it. That it was an accident. But I had been shooting my b-b gun out of the attic window for a month. I just hadn’t realized that it would actually happen. Why did I feel so bad?
When you live on the east side of Detroit in an Italian neighborhood, you didn’t see much wildlife. And yet, years later, when I saw a movie about a Bushman of the Kalahari praying to an animal he had just killed, I knew what he was feeling when he apologized to his victim for taking its life. Only I didn’t have any good reason for killing that bird and I felt terrible. Strangely, I couldn’t bring myself to touch the bird. It was part of another world. The world of wild things. I got a shovel. Dug a small hole. Lifted the bird with the shovel and buried it. Then I put the shovel away. Then I put the gun away.
Killing the bird wasn’t the same as shooting at Mr. Jack’s cats. His cats were fun to shoot at. They were as grouchy as he was and just wanted to be left alone to sun themselves on the black tar roof just across the alley. Invariably, it would take a few shots to get the range since the b-bs had a curved trajectory over that distance. Eventually a shot would land on the roof next to the cat, just enough to get it to raise its head and look around for the source of the disturbance. The next shot would score and the cat would leap from the roof in one bound, gone for the rest of the day.
See, that’s what I was trying to do with the birds. Tweak them. Not kill them.
It wasn’t that I had never seen animals killed. Like the time when the Italo-American club had a Thanksgiving Day raffle. The big wheel with nails stuck around the outer edge clicked slower and slower until it landed, with a breath jarring tick on my number. People shouted for my Grampa who was playing pinochle in the back room. He was proud of me that night. He told me that he had never won anything in his life and now I had won something for him. I still can still see him walking ahead of me on the way home, his tweed suit collar turned up against the cold, his floppy golf hat slouched over one ear and the turkey tucked under his arm looking back at me. The turkey stayed in the coal bin for a week until, in a matter of fact way, Grampa twisted its neck. Gramma dunked the carcass in boiling water and pulled off all the feathers singeing the tiny small ones over the gas stove leaving the smell of burnt hair in the cellar. The turkey, my turkey, looked so beautiful and golden brown for Thanksgiving dinner and I had made it all possible.
I had seen animals killed. I had shot rabbits, hunting with my uncles. Why was I so squeamish about touching that tiny wren? Why did I feel so bad about killing it?
Rabbits. It was always my job to skin and dress them after a long day in the field. Gramma would open the door to the back porch and remind me to put the backs in one pile so she could marinate them in her special garlic-tomato sauce. That’s what the difference was. I was helping us eat.
2 thoughts on “Wrens, Rabbits and Turkeys”
Cute, Joe. Are you feeling old? It happens some days … will happen some day. Unless we die first.
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Oh, I get it! I’ve been trying to take a selfie of my Covid hair here lately, but some wrinkled, double-chinned old woman is wearing mine.