I am blessed with the gift of luck. It likes to follow me. I would describe these moments, but you don’t want to hear that. Just allow me to tell you the story of my first lucky experience and how I wish it never happened.
One year, Santa Claus brought me the ultimate package. I had been a good boy. I knew Santa had no choice but to reward me. But when I saw the manner in which he did it, I could not believe my eyes. There, under the Christmas tree, lay my prize.
A Red Ryder BB gun!
To a seven-year-old whose idol was The Rifleman, this was the gift of gifts. As I held that fine gun in my hands, I thought I might pass out. At that moment in time, I WAS the luckiest person in the whole wide world. My one and only dream had come true.
But, before I, a.k.a. The Rifleman went blasting away at the first thing that moved, my Mom and Dad met with me.
“We need to have a serious talk,” they said. “A gun is a dangerous weapon. We are trusting you to be a responsible young man. We have rules you must follow.”
They gave me three simple rules of gun ownership. First, Dad told me not to shoot his beloved bird dog (henceforth referred to as rule number one). Next, Mom and Dad both told me to never point my gun at a human (henceforth known as rule number two). Last, Mom told me to never shoot a Mockingbird. She said it was the state bird of Arkansas and was against the law (henceforth known as rule number three).
Giddy, and ready to run through the door to get outside, I promised Mom and Dad to always follow their rules (henceforth known as what rules)?
Mom and Dad should have said something like this: son, you will betray us three times before you run out of BB’s.
Scurrying outside, I had visions of Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon and the weekly gun fight he had in the streets of Dodge City. I’d seen every episode of The Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, Daniel Boone, Roy Rogers, Wagon Train, The Virginian, and Bonanza. I’d dreamed of being one of those characters, taking care of the villains, and being a good guy.
Now, Hollywood could make a television show featuring me. The Bird Slayer, starring Ronnie Collins. Since I had my awesome Red Ryder BB Gun, there was nothing holding me back. Once my friends saw this incredible piece, I would be the talk of the town.
My early rifle shooting skills produced terrible results. I tossed a can in the air just as I’d seen my television heroes do. No matter how many times I tried, I did not hear the familiar ting and the can crumple as on television. But I did not get discouraged.
I sat the can upright on a fence post. I walked back thirty paces, or was it twenty? Ok, it was ten. I still struggled to hit that blasted can. I moved in a few paces and ping the can tumbled off the post with a slight dimple and a shooter was born.
Blackbirds flew overhead in waves, making the sky appear solid black. I cocked my gun and ping, shot into the sky, knowing my first kill was nigh. Nothing.
Several small sparrows flew into nearby bushes as if flirting with me. Cock, aim, fire. Nothing. I became annoyed.
Dads bird dog sniffed around wondering if I wanted to take him hunting. Get outta here dog, I said as I cocked, aimed, and shot. Yippppppeeee, the dog cried, running for shelter. Oops, rule number one broken.
Why is that rooster crowing?
The next day, my good friend, Gary Webb came to visit. I wanted to show off my prized possession. It impressed him.
“Wanna shoot it?” I asked.
“You bet,” he said.
We shot the gun a while until rain interrupted our gun shooting party. We started having a blast running in the rain. While Gary was running, an idea popped into my head. I took my gun and shot at the puddle next to Gary, trying to splash him with water. What I did not calculate was Gary’s decision to run toward me as soon as I shot the gun. I hit Gary in the arm. Gary cried. I cried. A deep friendship was born that day when Gary decided not to tell my parents the details of our little mishap.
Whew. That was close!
Rule number two. Broken.
Why is that stupid rooster at it again?
Several days passed, and I still had not killed a bird. My movie star status was declining rapidly because of my target failure. The Rifleman never had this worry.
There’s a bird. Cock, aim, shoot. Nothing.
There’s another. Cock, aim, shoot. Nothing. I must admit, my head drooped. The old confidence level dipped.
Wait. What’s that? Movement forty paces to my right. Is that a Mockingbird? Yes! Can’t shoot that. It’s the state bird of Arkansas. It’s against the law.
But it’s forty paces. I can’t even hit a bird at ten. What if I just scare it? That’s not against the law.
I know what I’ll do. Scare it Rifleman style. Shoot without aiming and from my hip.
I cocked and shot from the hip.
Remember, I told you how luck follows me? At this precise moment, the world slowed to a standstill. I saw that BB soaring through the air ten, then twenty, then thirty and yes even forty feet, landing in the Mockingbird’s belly. A few feathers popped at once from the bird, fluttering once, twice and a hundred times through the air until it landed on the ground, removing any doubt of the direct hit. Right behind the feathers fell the Mockingbird, as life left its innocent body. The magnificent bird landed with a thud. The ground below my feet shook. Or my feet shook on the ground.
This became a monumental moment in my young life. Luck had become an albatross.
“I, I hit it,” I exclaimed to myself as I ran to view my first kill. Heart pounding, I wished the cameras had captured this unbelievable shot to show the world.
When I got to the bird, reality set in. I just took the life of an animal. What if that was someone’s mom or dad? Worse yet, I had taken the life of a Mockingbird, the state bird of Arkansas!
I had just broken the law for the first time in my life. I envisioned the Game Warden on his way to take me to jail. Or even worse, Matt Dillon.
I looked to the left and then the right. No one in sight. Great! No witnesses. I grabbed the bird and tossed it into the woods. This was my secret, and I planned to share this with nobody.
Three simple rules. Three rules broken, and I still had BB’s remaining.
That night, I could not stop worrying about the consequences of shooting that bird. The Game Warden, a good friend of Dads, stopped to visit often. What if he came by tomorrow and saw the Mockingbird in our yard? What if he had a Mockingbird meter? A device that detected when young boys disobeyed their parents and shot the state bird of Arkansas. Boy, oh boy! I’m sure Santa was watching. Should I make a run for it? Live my life as a fugitive?
The next day, I continued worrying at school. I boarded the bus to go home. Graciously, Gary Webb allowed me to sit by him. I noticed he had a bandage on his arm. Outward evidence of my handiwork. Guilt swelled up even more in my stomach.
As the bus approached my house, I could not believe my eyes. The Game Warden was at our house. He and Dad were standing outside visiting.
“Don’t panic,” I told myself. There is no way he knows I killed that Mockingbird!
As I got off the bus, I ambled to Dad and the Game Warden. They visited with me for an eternity. But during that time, it became clear they did not know the bird saga. Tremendously relieved, I told them goodbye and headed into the house.
I glimpsed movement out of the side of my eyes. What was that? NO! Was that what I thought it was?
It was what I thought it was.
There was Dads prized bird dog. On its side was a red whelp compliments of me and my BB gun. In his mouth, he carried a BB riddled Mockingbird. He dropped it at the foot of the Game Warden. If one looked closely, they could notice the dog glance smugly over his shoulder at me, proudly trotting off in the distance.
I just learned the first of many valuable lessons in life. What goes around comes around!
Writers note: Most of this story is true.