One Shot Only, Please

Being responsible

At age 13, R. P. ________, who would become my mother’s stepfather, ran away from his home in Louisiana’s Winn Parish and neither he nor anybody else in the family ever talked about why. It may have been to get away from the economic horror wrought by his abusive swamp rat of a father or it may have been something sinister. We know that he regularly sent money back home to support his mother and younger sister. But there were also hints of something accidentally overheard through a screen door regarding Huey Long, whose name was not to be uttered in R. P.’s home or presence.

Whatever the reason, R. P. left in 1918, and when he left he took only three things with him. First and foremost was a deep commitment to being responsible in all things. Something which his father held in so much contempt that it could be said of R. P. that the apple fell so far from the tree it landed in different orchard.

The second thing R. P. had going for him was an insatiable curiosity. If he saw someone doing something he’d never seen before, he had no qualms about wandering over and asking what was going on. My grandmother’s dream surprise gift for him was a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, but as a married woman buying on credit in those days required the husband’s agreement. So, she had to settle for a gift of membership in the National Geographic Society, which brought the National Geographic Magazine right to their door. And I saw him taken by curiosity one day 1959 when he took me to the Santa Fe Railroad station to catch a train bound for Dayton, Ohio – He saw a man servicing Journal Boxes on some Santa Fe freight cars and went over to ask about it.

But, perhaps the most valuable of R. P.’s personal assets was his prodigious memory. Whatever he saw and under whatever circumstances he saw it, he remembered it in detail. In his later career as a vehicle fleet supervisor for a major, Texas-based, tri-state building materials provider, he read railroad timetables for fun. If materials needed to be shipped by rail, he knew without looking exactly when and from where it should be sent; what route it would take, when it would arrive; and what the shipping costs should be.

Still, it was his sense of responsibility that stood out.

On arriving in Ft. Worth, R. P. got a job in an automobile repair shop cleaning parts with gasoline for fifty cents a day, which was fair for the time. Whatever he earned he spent on necessities like room and board and his first big purchase was a trunk in which to lock up his few possessions. And that trunk is probably the finest example I have of how seriously responsible he was – When I first laid eyes on it in 1963, forty-five years later, it was pristine.

After a successful career as a master mechanic, one-time pharmacy owner, and ultimately as a fleet supervisor on the way to retirement, R. P. bought and built a home on a 70 some odd acre estate on a rise some 15 miles south of Ft. Worth which gave him a fine nighttime view of the skyline of the city he conquered. It was so rural that I could hunt rabbit and squirrel without fear of damaging the person or property of another. And I did so two days before Christmas in 1962 using his bolt-action single-shot .22 caliber rifle.

As I was getting ready to hunt in the late morning that day , R. P. castigated me about whether I was actually going hunting or just going out plinking, with emphasis on the likelihood of the latter. He allowed as how hunting was all about what you give and what you get and, because bullets were not free, there was an absolute expectation of a 1:1 ratio of spent shells to kills.

At the time, I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t figure why he would come at me that way. But, I didn’t disappoint. .22 caliber ammunition comes 50 to a box and I returned with 44 shells, 2 rabbits, and 4 squirrels. The rabbits, by R. P.’s judgment, were inedible because of wolves in their haunches and the squirrels went into a stew my grandmother prepared using a recipe her own mother had developed in the late 1800s when their home was a half dug-out in New Mexico.

Now, with all the history I have at hand and after the years I’ve spent scanning it, I realize that on that day I had come face-to-face with the ghost of the man who bred him and, ironically, that what R. P., had actually gotten from his father was that responsibility was a matter of life and death.