Monday, May 21, 2007

The Dogs Name Was Rusty

So its Sunday afternoon and I'm surfing for old movies. Hit upon a 1945 oldie but goody about a boy who tries to rehabilitate a German Shepard dog that was found when GI's were liberating Germany. Sorry about forgetting the title, but the dog's name was Rusty. A medically discharged soldier had brought Rusty back to the states with him, but Rusty turned out to be a handful and a half.

So anyway, the tale begins with the featured lad and several of his friends walking through a field carrying their .410's. That's right, 9 year-olds traipsing through town with shotguns and no one bats an eye. The boy heads into his house and the dutiful Mom...wearing the best designer dress under an apron but of course and coiffed to the 9's...asks if the boy has had any luck finding some game to shoot.

This wasn't some hillbilly home but what was considered an average rural dwelling from the 40's. Kids were encouraged to take out the old .22 or small-bore shotgun and have a go at bringing back some rabbits for the stew, and a pheasant or two would be nice as well. The neighbors didn't run screaming through the streets. SWAT teams didn't pull up and bullhorn the block into submission, and here begins part of the reason for then versus now. During summer vacation I'd drag the old .22 around with me to a lot of places. No, I wouldn't walk into a Bloomingdales with one but trotting out of a woodline with a gaggle of friends all so armed was not only normal but as I've said, encouraged. It's what boys did. European football hadn't been introduced to America, so there were no soccer moms to faint from one look at 9 year-old and his gun. But the single biggest difference was in how the police reacted to it all. In the 50's an officer was likely to pull his car over and ask if you'd had any luck scaring up game, and offer a hint or two if the pickings were slim.

Yes, America was changing. Minorities hadn't as yet started to burn down neighborhoods but even when they did begin such summertime diversionary fun and games the cops wouldn't bother an otherwise law abiding youngster from having some plinking fun. Then came the 60's. Me, Den, Willy and Bry were heading home from one helluva fun .22 shoot when officer Price nearly ran us over with his squad car. We were ordered to cram into the backseat and each of us deposited straight to our respective homes because it "just didn't look good" us cutting through the fields armed with rifles like that. It was the first time I ever saw a cop that really looked scared. Of kids no less. But this was the beginning of the end for innocence for innocents sake. People were so crazy they were even shooting cops and everyone was a suspect. Everyone a potential cop-killer. When my father got home he drove me straight back to the police station and read the riot act to officer Price, but even after an apology things were never the same. We'd gotten a taste of things to come and none of the officers appreciated seeing us so armed and if looks could kill we'd never have made it to become teenagers.

Pretty soon, our parents stopped trying to defend us because the laws were changing and the mood of the country was changing and everyone started agreeing that we shouldn't ought to be scaring the police like that any more. This was WAY before the gun control act of 1968, and one day some crazy nut shot the President and that was that. BB guns replaced the .22's, then even they became too scary. All the moms would still get snuffly whenever anyone started talking about how Kennedy was so young to have died because some crazy man with a gun was allowed to roam free, and slowly but surely we had to be under adult supervision to even go plinking and that meant hardly ever. All of sudden people were getting so busy all the time. We'd still get dropped off pretty much anywhere we wanted to go, but that meant playing ball or catching a movie, anything but shooting. I really think that a big reason I joined the Marines was so that I could have a gun again. Be around other guys with guns, and shooting and having a whale of a time. Damned if we weren't pretty darn good at it too.

If you'd have told me back then how things would look today I'd have laughed in your face. People, grown-ups scared of guns? The cops, too? Especially the cops. They carried lots of 'em, so what was there to be afraid of? How could anyone ever hope to be as good as Bill Jordan if they didn't practice a lot? With a HANDGUN? Forget it.

Officer Price drove us home and it was never the same after that.

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