It’s 1956. My mom and dad just bought a brand new Chevrolet Bel Air. We are taking a road trip! My parents, my younger brother, and I are driving from Los Angeles, California, to Decatur, Illinois, to visit my dad’s family.
The distance to Decatur is 1,941 miles. Our road trip is what you might expect with two brothers under the age of 7 in the backseat. Since there are no seatbelts there is no clearly defined DMZ. Skirmishes of whom is on whom’s side break out every hundred miles or so. I don’t remember if the car had air conditioning, but I do remember all of the windows are rolled down as we drive through Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
On our second day in Decatur, my dad and my uncles decide to go out to an abandoned farm and shoot some guns. I beg my dad to take me with him.
My mom puts both feet down. “Under no circumstances are you to take Steve out to go shooting with guns.”
When my mom leaves to go shopping, my dad takes me out to go shooting with guns. But I am only permitted to watch.
I am so excited. My dad and uncles line up tin cans on an old, weathered fence and start to shoot them off one by one. It’s just like cowboys in the movies. Except my dad and uncles are doing it all wrong. They’re holding their pistols with both hands. A cowboy doesn’t shoot his pistol with both hands. I decide its best to keep this information to myself.
Too soon, it’s time to leave. I beg my dad to let me shoot his gun just once. Please! Finally, my dad gives in. I mean, one shot. What can it hurt?
My dad wisely stands directly behind me. He puts the gun in my hands then wraps his huge arms around mine to help me aim.
Wait a minute. This doesn’t feel or look like a cowboy gun at all. First of all, it’s all black. Second, it smells like oil. And third, it’s heavy. Really heavy. My dad tells me it’s a 22-caliber automatic.
“Okay,” says my dad. “Breath normal. Aim at the tin can. And when you’re ready, gently pull the trigger.” I do what he says. I barely touch the trigger. The gun kicks in my hands. I think I hit some dirt.
“I think you hit some dirt,” says my dad.
I am proud. I hit some dirt. I can’t wait to tell my mom. It’s time to go home. My dad and I carefully lower the gun. My finger accidentally touches the trigger. A 22-caliber bullet goes though my left foot.
Immediately, all hell breaks loose.
My dad tears off my left shoe and pulls off my black sock. It’s weird. Underneath my black sock there’s a red sock that looks exactly like it.
From that point on, our vacation is pretty much ruined. My dad calls my mom from the hospital to let her know where we are and why. (My dad served on a mine sweeper in WWII. That phone call is the bravest thing I ever saw a man do.)
Driving back to Los Angeles, the distance is still the same. 1,941 miles. But somehow the trip seems longer. I don’t know, maybe it’s the cast on my left foot and lower leg. It’s itching like crazy. On the other hand, it could be the almost zero conversation coming from the front seat. I’ll let you decide.