Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Family Tale

Guns are not part of my daily experience.

Ray had a shotgun for awhile after we had a child-snatcher loose in the neighborhood. The shotgun lived, unloaded, in the back of a closet in one bedroom. Its ammunition lived in a box on the very back of a shelf in a closet in another bedroom. I don't think I ever saw the two together. The only time the shotgun ever came out of the closet was one night when Ray thought someone was trying to steal gas out of one of the cars. He stood with the gun just inside the patio door at the upstairs balcony and pumped it once. The next morning there was a new gas can in our driveway -- empty.

My father had a pistol, left over from his days as a volunteer police officer. It -- and its ammunition -- stayed on the back of the shelf in his closet. Ian came across it one day recently. Everything was returned to the Honolulu Police Department.

I never heard stories about my family members hunting or target shooting or otherwise being interested in the kinds of activities that are so common in Groveland. There I learned to schedule employee training around the various hunting and fishing seasons. I learned to pay attention to the days the seasons opened in our area, when one could fish in streams (as opposed to lakes), and when to expect out-of-area deer hunters in my front yard.

My grandfather grew up in Tombstone, Arizona. Well, he lived there from about age 3 to about age 13 or perhaps 14. His father was a hunter. The Yonges were English country gentlefolk. They probably hunted birds on the family estate, Puslinch. The men went regularly from Devon up to Scotland to hunt. James, my great-grandfather, spent 5 years on a sheep station in rural Australia in the 1860's. He undoubtedly had the opportunity to hone his marksmanship skills there.

I should not have been surprised to hear the following tale this morning. My mother said it was among her mother's favorite stories.

There was a strike on the sugar plantations. My grandfather was station master at the Waipahu depot on the Oahu Railway and Land Co. (OR&L) railroad. The Filipino men from the plantation, with nothing better to do since they couldn't work in the cane fields, used to come down to the depot and sit in the passenger waiting area. It made my grandmother nervous, because the single Filipino men carried a reputation as fighters, and their fights usually involved knives.

There were mongooses around the depot. A mongoose is a weasel-looking critter. He's about 15" long, 2-3" in diameter, with a pointy nose, a pointy tail, and beady little eyes. He is fast, and he is short-tempered. He was imported to Hawaii to control rats in the cane fields, then got out of control himself.

My grandfather took a non-confrontational approach. One day as the men were gathering on the depot's passenger platform, my grandfather brought out his .22 rifle. Spying a mongoose, he lifted the rifle and fired. One shot, and the mongoose was dead. The bullet went right through his eye. The out-of-work Filipino laborers found someplace else to hang out.

Although she pleased her husband by learning to shoot, my grandmother was never comfortable around guns. She was made to take the rifle along when she and the children went camping by themselves for several days at a time. If they were on the beach, the gun went in the bottom of the laundry basket. If they were staying in a house, it got wrapped carefully in a blanket and stowed safely under a bed. If she had needed, the crisis would have passed before she got to the gun.

As we honor our servicemen and -women at home and overseas, let us also give thanks for the peacemakers, those who seek what Hawaiians call pono -- roughly, finding harmony, balance, the moral and upright way. Oh, the ancient Hawaiians were not pacifists. They did battle, too. Fierce battle. And they held grudges, to the point that if you were among the defeated and managed to escape, it was bad luck to tell others about your battle experiences. If you were ever identified by the victors, you could be killed, your bones made into fish hooks and your teeth set into the victor's poi bowls -- the ultimate insult.

Hug a friend. Tell someone how much you care. Don't forget to pray.

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