“ADDIE” OAKLEY In honor of my Grandmother’s 115th. birthday

Being a Southern male I do hate to have to admit that when it comes to “shootin’” I can’t hit a “bull in the butt with a banjo…or a bass fiddle.” Because of my inability to draw a bead on the proverbial “broadside of the barn,” I choose to exercise my “God given” right to follow the second amendment using a double-barreled shotgun that sports the shortest legal barrel I can own. Loaded with bird shot, it will shred a mosquito at twenty feet. Loaded with buck shot it will blow a six-inch hole in a door at ten feet…not that I have done either. Man, I feel so manly just talking about it. When it comes to shooting my thirty-eight magnum handgun, you are as safe as a baby in its crib if I am aiming at you. I cannot guarantee your safety if you are standing behind me however. No matter how manly I sound or how Southern I am, I do hate guns. I shouldn’t.

Having a gun is a Southern rite of passage and, although we weren’t hunters, I grew up around my dad’s and grandmother’s twenty-twos and my grandfather’s hammered 12-gauge. That old-fashioned gun was a beauty with a thirty-six inch barrel. I remember him using it only once because, like me, he left the shooting up to his wife. That statement has to do more with my “rifle-toting” grannie, who could shoot the eye out of a varmint at one hundred yards, than with my wife, who has given up hunting due to my dislike of sitting in dark, cold and damp treestands. “Addie” Oakley, “Dead-Eye” Addie or “Sure Shot” Addie…you can take your pick of monikers because they all fit. I don’t know who taught her to shoot but she had a keen eye and a steady grip despite her odd way of holding her twenty-two rifle. Instead of jamming the butt of the rifle against her shoulder, she laid the stock on top of her shoulder turning the rifle to the side. Whatever worked I guess.

Some of my earliest memories of my grandmother include her twenty-two. She carried it everywhere not knowing when she might need it. Whether it was rats at the barn, snakes or a varmint attacking the livestock, she was going to be ready. I once witnessed her shoot a stray dog that was attacking our milk cow on a distant hill inside of our pasture. She yelled trying to “Shoo it off” but when the dog continued its attack, she calmly put a round through its eye while it was on the move…at one hundred yards if it was a foot. Nannie had tears in her eyes as she buried the old mongrel but she had saved the cow.

With her love for birds, snakes were fair game, but she did draw a line at cats. There was no such thing as a good snake and don’t try to explain to her that rat snakes eat rats. They also eat chicken eggs and birds and that was enough for her. King snakes were tolerated because they killed other bird predators so I was taught at an early age how to recognize them. I once saw her put sixteen rounds into a black rat snake that was attacking a nest. Every time she hit it, the snake would wrap itself more tightly around the limb until it moved enough for her to get a head shot. It was shot full of holes. Once returning from her garden through a tangled archway of out-of-control privet, she stopped and “shushed me” while placing the butt of her rifle on her shoulder. In the middle of a patch of iris under her bedroom window, I saw a snake. It was reared up, mocking a cobra without the cowl, its head moving side to side like a periscope. Nannie’s little twenty-two cracked causing me to jump and the snake fell from view. This she did despite it being silhouetted against her bedroom window. No broken glass but when we got there, no snake either. I remember saying in an accusatory voice, “Ya missed!” She pointed at a leaf and said no I didn’t. There was a small spot of blood on the leaf but I’m not sure I believed her until the next morning. As we made our morning trek to the garden, we found a dead coachwhip snake with a bullet wound under its jaw. It had hung itself on a privet root. Don’t mess with “Dead-Eye” Addie or accuse her of missing!

One of the oddest rituals involving Nannie’s rifle was the making of meals. It wasn’t a utensil but the kitchen windows gave her a view of a big cedar tree which had become a feeding station for her birds. Washing dishes or creating the best biscuits known to man, her vision was always focused on those feeders. Periodically, she would stop, wipe off her hands, pick up her rifle and fire a round through the window screen. She would try to fire through previously made holes but that was somewhat impossible and her screen had several twenty-two-sized holes. There would be a “bang” and then she would tell me that a copperhead or sick sparrow had gone to its maker. Nannie would then go back to her biscuit making waiting to move the body later.

So how bad is my marksmanship? As good as she was, I am that bad. Once I went squirrel hunting with a 12-gauge and the squirrel and dumplings ended up being filled with birdshot. Another time early in our marriage when Linda still had ideas about hunting, we were disturbed by what we thought was an intruder. It wasn’t; more than likely it was just one of our ghosts that traipses through the hallways of our old farmhouse late at night. Linda grabbed her Browning 243 while I picked up my baseball bat. Neither had to be used. That is a good thing because…come to think of it, I was never a great hitter either.

For more Southern rural humor by Don Miller click on http://goo.gl/lomuQf

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