January 23, 2014

A BB gun provides excellent training in marksmanship because you can see over the sights the little coppery pellet arching into the distance. It produces an eye for elevation and windage that shows up on the rifle ranges of Parris Island.

I remember afternoons of shooting cotton-mouths from the rusting iron bridge over the creek near the Valley Gin Company, no longer existent. (In the South, “€œgin”€ means a place that takes seeds out of cotton, instead of vodka made unpalatable by the addition of juniper juice.) Further, we tried to shoot dragonflies that flitted in iridescent blues and greens among the swamp weeds, wings making a papery rustle. Usually we missed. These insects, known in varying locales as the Devil’s darning needles, snake doctors, or ‘skeeter hawks, are elusive.

Today they would be a protected species. Buying a BB gun would require proof of adulthood, capacity would be restricted by Federal law to six BBs, the purchase of which would require registration and a waiting period. In 1957 Athens figured that BB guns were none of the government’s goddamed business. The concept has been forgotten.

However, regulation is not without reason. If you walk around the town square today, you will notice that perhaps just over half of the men are blind in at least one eye from BB wounds, as they roll about in wheelchairs because of feet lost to going barefoot.

My pooch at the time was Penny, an agreeable gal dog given to occasional promiscuity. This was only human of her. She was a cross between something and something else, as dogs should be. I do not like snooty purebred dogs who eat only at the finest restaurants and probably have psychiatrists.

At night Penny sometimes slept on the foot of my bed, common in those days. When she wanted to go out, she scratched at the door, and went. I don”€™t know where she went. She was a grown dog, competent to manage her affairs. When she returned, she scratched, and came in. This did on two occasions result in new little dogs, but no system is perfect.

Pretty much identical to our house, now gone, but ours was without the flags.

Today she would require a license, vaccinations, enrolment in Obamacare, and an implanted chip so NSA could protect her from terrorists (always common in Athens). She would have to be constantly on a leash, like all other Americans, and Child Protective Services would carry my parents away for letting her sleep on my bed.

This would be for our own good. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show that between 1950 and 1960, 1.2 million Southern children died of dog poisoning. Further, unleashed dogs like Penny frequently killed and ate old people rocking on their porches. I didn”€™t understand that when Penny licked my hand, she was checking for flavor.

Such was America, when it was America. It was a helluva country, warts and all, and Athens was a helluva childhood. These never will be again, but they were, and for those who knew them, it was enough.



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