WHY I HATE GUNS
My hatred of guns is not a philosophical hatred…not something distant…my hatred is close to the bone. Flesh and blood kind of thing.
Guilt is part of my hatred. It was not always so. As a kid my brother and I played endless games of cowboys and Indians in Dufferin Park.
“Eric, you be the Indian this time. No, it’s your turn.” And we would fire imaginary bullets at each other. The cowboys with the gun. The
Indian with his bow and arrow. All imaginary. I know this sounds sinister today…even racist. But it was not so in the dying days of
World War II. Guns fitted Canadian society as tight as hand in a glove. War news was everywhere…newspapers, radio, conversations.
Relatives were overseas in England, Europe, Burma. My cousin George was killed in 1944 when his bomber was strafed by a German night
fighter. Plying guns was all imaginary. No guns but lots of acting. I remember coming home with mom in winter from a Bowery Gang movie
when the snow was heavy and each lawn had so much they seemed like the canyons and cliffs of the American wild west. I was the Indian
on that occasion and Eric shot me just as I scaled a snow heap. What a chance? Shot. I made a spread eagled fall over the brink and my
dead body slid to the sidewalk below where a woman passing buy thought i was really dead. She screamed. Eric and I ran to catch up to mom.
Playing guns had consequences. In 1944 or 1945 we were too young to understand that the negative images of both ‘white’ cowboys and “red” Indians.
had racist overtones. Today, in 2018, I don’t see any kids playing guns anymore. Should Eric and I apologize? We loved playing guns. Were we racists?
I wonder if First Nations kids played Indians and cowboys…war games…imaginary…where he Indians won?
No I do not have any long term guilt in this case. In 1944 and 1945, I loved my Wooden tommy gun made by Mr. Samanas, the Polish father of
our friend Bobby Samana who lived near us on Sylvan Avenue
in West Toronto. He made the guns for his own boy and we traded to get one. It was almost an exact replica of the Tommy guns being used
by Russian forces on the Eastern Front at the time. We had no idea of any of that. No guilt at the time. Not hatred of guns
because everything we did was imaginary. I am not sure if we were even aware a World War was really happening or happened.
Eric and I spent a lot of time playing guns in Dufferin Park. I think this was a fort we built in the great snow storm of 1944 but could be 1945 or 1946.
We were our own army firing imaginary bullets at imaginary enemies…in this case mom with her camera. How do I know it was mom. Simple.
We are saluting. We recognized mom as the leader of our family. Respect your officers. Right?
The guilt came from a real gun. Eric and I were teen agers when Dad gave us a BB gun for Christmas. We did not ask for it…as a matter of
fact we never expected anything from Dad. He did not give Christmas presents. Not because he did not love us. We knew he did love us because of
how he described us to his friends or just about anyone that seemed interested. “I have two sons. One is a gutsy bugger and the other is as
stupid as Joe’s dog.” Eric once told dad to stop. “Dad, how stupid was Joe/s dog?” Waited a long tome for you to ask. “Joe’s dog was
so stupid he jumped over nine bitches to screw his own shadow.” Doesn’t this sound like love? Dad often spoke in reverses. He wasn’t the
So that year he gave us the gun was a big surprise. Totally unexpected. Shocked even mom. “Red, do you really think the boys needed a gun?”
“Thought it was time for them to have one.” In point of fact he had not really thought the idea through. It was an impulse as were many of his
more bizarre actions in a life strewn with halter-skelter adventures. He paid a dollar downpayment and left the rest of the payments up to us.
Us? Nope. Mom would get the bill as usual.
So we had a gun. Must have been around the year 1953. I remember it clearly. After we got the gun we caught dad firing BB;s at Tom Cats
who were on the back fence serenading our very sexy momma cat. We lived on then second floor of 455 Annette street by that time. A small house
with a three room apartment on the upper floor and some really poky little rooms below which Mom rented to Mr. and Mrs. Douglas. Nice
people. He was a bartender and she was an ex-hooker. They loved us. And were always amused by Dad. So his targeting of Tom Cats
met with general approval. Mom was, however, indignant and took the gun away from him once she found Dad in the dark acting as a World
War II sniper on the Eastern Front. No cat died. Not sure Dad even hit one of them for they kept yowling their unrequited love songs
to get Tinker’s attention. “Red, this gun can only be used at the farm. No put it away.”
This is where my guilt entered.
We packed up for the farm the day after Christmas as usual. Grandma and Grandpa expected us…loved to see us. They lived in a Victorian red
brick farm house with no running water and therefore no toilet except the back house under the walnut tree. Most of the house was like a big ice box
in winter. Icicles and hoar frost in all t he rooms except for the front room where the big wood stove glowed red as it consumed split maple cordwood.
There wasn’t even electricity yet. When we went to bed in the icebox part of the house, Grandma carried hot bricks wrapped in newspaper to get
the bed ready for us. Most nights we all slept in the same bed…mom, eric and me. Dad did not come with us often because the other loves of his life, gambling
and racehorses drew him away. Mom’s parents liked Dad in spite his idiosyncrasies. A fact that was not true for a lot of people.
So Boxing Day at the Freeman farm was exciting. Uncle Frank would pick us up at the SilverCreek bus stop or at the corner of the Fifth line. On bad winter days
he came down with the team of horses and the big bob sleigh which we run behind to keep warm then hop back on. On good winters days he came down with his Model A Ford. This was a good day. At least it
started that way.
Grandma had food ready and “I bought a special bottle of Worcester Sauce for you Alan. I know how much you love it.” Truth was I used great gallops of
Worcester sauce to kill the tase of some things, particularly the cold slices of fat marbled beef that were cut from a slab of beef hanging in the cold cellar. The same was true of
the potatoes that were kept buried in sawdust beside the coal bin in another part of the dirt floor cellar. Carrots sometimes had the tell take marks of summer
gnawing by wire worms. Worcester sauce made everything palatable. Sounds disgusting today when all our food is so perfectly presented in super markets,
But in those days Grandma and
Grandpa never left the farm. They had no car and had to rely on others for shopping in town or pay the itinerant bread man and meat man who dropped by
just as the mailman does today. Or mail woman. Nor did they have much money. Mom helped them out from her job as a garment maker in various Toronto
Don’t get me wrong, Christmas was a great time. Granddad would tighten the strings on his Stradivarious violin and grandma would get ready on the pump organ and music would fill
the heated air of that tiny front room. The Devil’s Dream was my favourite piece of Granddad’s music. All of us in the front room…jammed in around the stove and the
pump organ…loving it. And the dog would howl to the music as well. Then that day in 1953 things went wrong.
We are getting close to the reason I hate guns now. Get ready..
“Can we use the BB gun, now Mom?” “Yes, but be careful.” The word ‘ careful’ had no meaning. Eric will not like me saying this. And I am not proud of my first acton
with the BB gun.
“Eric, walk over beside the tree and turn around, I want to see how powerful these BB’s are.”
“OWWW! That, really hurt, Alan. Why did you do that.”
“Just a test” managed to hit hm square in the ass.
Eric came at me swinging but relented when I gave him a few shots with the gun. He did not shoot me though. I think it was about that time that Eric
lost confidence in me as a brother. “ Alan, you can be stupid at times,” as dad said. I preferred Dad to see me as a ‘gutsy bugger’ rather than as ’stupid as Joe’s
Shooing Eric in the ass was not a good idea. In spite of his heavy breeks a BB came with enough velocity to leave a little red mark on Eric’s bum. Or so he said later.
Now, almost 65 years later, I do feel guilty about that lapse in judgement. But worse was to come.
Cousin Ted Freeman arrived at the farm in the early afternoon. He came in style. George Johnson drove down in a decrepit Model T Ford whose next owner would be
the scrap man. On that winter day in 1953, however, the Model T was running. “How about a ride around the concession boys?”
Mom nodded approval and we piled in the back seat. “Can I take the gun?” No comment from anyone. Not approval or disapproval. In retrospect, I wish someone
had taken the gun away from me. Once we got rolling down past McEcherns and MacLeans, I got the great idea that the Model T could be a moving gun platform
and I began firing BB’s at will. I aimed at barn windows for the most part…or machine shop windows. Down we went. The Kerrs had farms on both sides of the road
which meant jumping across Eric to get shots at both barns and drive sheds. Then there were the Saunders and the old Boyd Farm. We were really rolling. I was
not sure if the BB’s hit the windows or not. Some did, for sure. That was one powerful gun. We stopped for a leak at one point and Angus McEchern drove by
in his old red truck. Ronnie sat beside him. After they got a hundred yards down the road I took a couple of pot shots at them. Angus braked the truck and backed up fast.
“Who did that?” And he pointed to one little round hole in the back window of his truck. All heads swivelled my way. This was not good. As God is my witness I did
not believe a BB gun was that powerful.
Guilt? You betcha. I still feel guilty about that day. And for the next few weeks I seem to remember paying local farmers for smashed windows. Tough to make the payments because
Eric and I only made half a cent profit from each Star on our Fairview Avenue paper route. Eric’s share had to be subtracted. He was not a sniper on that fateful day.
I carried all the guilt. For months afterwards I was afraid to even go to the farm. People looked at me as if I was an assassin. I don’t think I hit all the windows targeted that day. Of that I was fairly sure
because for most it was a long distance from the road to drivesheds . No matter, mom offered to pay for the damages. Now, so many years later, I am not sure if I even paid for the windows. But I still feel the guilt. And I did see that
little round hole in Angus McEchern’s truck. Luckily that hole was in the middle. I missed both Angus and Ronnie. Not a bad shot. I remember taking careful
aim to insure I hit the windshield dead in the middle. And I did. Stupid is as stupid does, as Tom Hanks said in the movie. I really did not believe a BB gun was that powerful which is
no excuse. But I do remember the sinking feeling when Angus McEchern looked at me. He was then about 60 years old and one of my rural heroes. I fell a couple of notches
in his opinion that day but he still seemed to like me. Perhaps he was thinking “the kid is just like me, prone to stupid errors like the time I tried to scare Laddie away from my sheep
with a quick rifle shot aimed at the gravel road but it hit Laddie square in the head.” Grandma and Grandad loved that dog. Angus did not mean to kill him just as I did not mean
to put a BB through his truck window.
The gun? I think Dad was told when we got back to the city and I believe he smashed the gun on the Manitoba Maple trunk in our backyard. Not sure what really
happened. Maybe he took the gun back to the store and got his dollar back. Eric and I had been gun owners for two days. Long enough to make me hate guns.
Guilt is a terrible thing. Mom made me feel a little better when she gently castigated Dad for setting a poor example by targeting those Tom cats on Christmas day.
Did I imagine that dad shared my guilt? Probably.
P.S. Just a slightly irrelevant post script lest you think Eric was Lilly white in those days. He got into trouble as well. Perhaps not as much as me since he was never
brought home in squad car as I was after the Mineral Bath fiasco. But Eric committed a real blunder one day on our paper route. We figured speed was important
for we had many other things to do other than deliver Toronto Daily Star papers to our 60 to 70 homes on Fairview Avenue. So we developed a mobile system. if the
papers were rolled tight and one end slipped into the other end, the paper could be thrown. That speeded up things a bit. But then Eric made the job really mobile
by jamming 20 or so papers into the black iron strap carrier on his bike. He could drive and throw. Speed. That seemed to work until Eric made a monumental mistake.
He threw the paper with too much force and instead of landing on the verandah of one house, it sailed through the window. Smashed it…shattered. Worse still, that
was a bathroom window and a woman was having a bath at the time…or so she said. I don’t believe that last part was true. She was irate however and came
to our house with all kinds of threats. Foaming at the mouth threats of law suits and police. Dad was great in these attacks. Any attack on his boys was an attack
on him. Eric and I were upstairs on the landing unseen but listening. Part way through the ladies yelling Dad intervened with his usual remark. “You old bag, get the
hell of our verandah.” Scared her I think. She expected an apology at least. Later Eric and I did apologize to her which was accepted. The reason I do not think
anyone was in the bathtub was that she remained a customer. I think we paid for the window. Maybe. Memory fails.
P.P,S,. Another somewhat amusing incident happened on her front lawn. She had a bunch of squirrels that she fed. Black squirrels. Sort of tame squirrels. Sort of tame
is a misnomer. They were wild things. “Eric, I’ll give you a quarter if you grab one of those squirrels by the tale.” And he did. Moved cautiously up behind one and
then snapped his hand on the tail like an alligator grabbing a duck. This was not a good idea. The quarrel quickly reversed itself and tore gashes in Eric’s arm…bad
gashes. Bloody gashes. Mom was not amused. “Squirrels have worms and all kinds of nasty things living on them…dangerous. Don’t ever do that again.”
I felt badly. Really did. I gave Eric the quarter which was a lot of money in 1953. For a quarter I could get a huge ice cold overflowing milk shake at the Dairy at
Annette and Runnymede. So parting with the quarter was a big event.
Over the years Eric began to lose confidence in me as his big brother. And he got stronger than me. I am not a fighter and learned from the school of hard knocks that
it is better to roll over like a dog in submission than to trade punches. That message Eric and I both got by watching the Beanery and junction gangs try to kill each
in battles in Dufferin Park when we were very small. I remember one of the Beanery guys trying to defend a girl and a Junction gang member came up behind him and
whacked him with what looked like a iron pipe. It may have been a wooden club. No matter, the guy went down. Better to run than stick around defending girls. That
conclusion occurred before I reached puberty. In the same situation after puberty I might have played the hero. Might have.
Always plan an escape route became a reflex action with me. One escape failed though. Like the time I snatched Eric’s share of the icing on Mom’s cakes. Eric would eat the cake first
and leave the icing to the last. Neatly placed on his plate. I planned to get that icing. Snatch and grab and run. Run for the back stairs with the icing in my mouth. That escape did not work
because Eric figured I would do the snatch and grab. So he had locked the door to the old stairway. He got me and gave me the ‘what for’ a couple of times. He was really mad
but not in killing mood because his trap had worked so well. He laughed.
P.P.S. I suppose that squad car incident should be explained a bit. Lest you think I was becoming a hardened criminal. We were in the locker room at Minnies, a big private swimming pool
on Bloor Street across from High Park. Swam there often. As often as we could afford. Minnies was great. It had a high tower with three levels. The top level was so high that
it was dangerous to take a running jump. “Some guy did that and got impaled on spears of the fence on the opposite side. So Minnies was a place of adventure. The locker room had
long rows of wooden lockers for our clothes and valuables. Each swimmer was given a key to his locker. A very simple key. “Eric, I bet these keys are the same for every locker.”
“Bet you a dime they are not.” “Watch this.” So I took my key and tried it on the next locker. It did not work. But there was no time to get my key out. “Kid rifling lockers in Row 3…saw him
doing it.” And all hell broke loose. I was grabbed by a couple of goons and dragged to Minnies office where the owner looked at me and said, “The police are on the way, sit down, you are
in real trouble.” Now how could I get out of that one? Who would believe I was testing the keys? Who would believe there was a dime bet involved? Eric went home while I waited for the
police…shaking…but not crying. Stunned. The policeman took me by the shoulder and talked to me. Nicely. I said…stuttered…and said “I was just testing the keys…thought they were all the same.”
No mention of the dime…no need to. “Come on son, get in the car…I’ll drive you home.” Yikes! This could be worse that going to jail. Grandma was visiting us and she was likely on
the front verandah looking for cigarette butts. She liked to chew tobacco and found a treasure trove at the Annette Street trolley bus stop. As we approached our house I said in a trembling voice,
“My grandma is on the verandah…could you drop me off down the street a bit?” What a nice cop. “Sure son, don’t do anything stupid again.” Really good guy. I slipped out of the squad car
and sauntered home. “Eric got home ahead of you Alan, he’s upstairs.” What a narrow escape? Grandma still had a high opinion me.
I wondered one thing though. Suppose dad had been home? Would he tell the policeman to “Get the hell off our verandah”? Dad could do some stupid things too. Luckily the horses
were running a Woodbine track and Dad was distracted by his first love…gambling on racehorses. I know what you are thinking. Thinking the same ting myself. I do not think
Eric ever gave me that dime.
Dad, speaking to anyone about his sons. “We have two sons, one is a gutsy bugger and the other is as stupid as Joe’s dog.” Your job? Which one is the
gutsy bugger and which is as stupid as Joe’s dog? Or are the terms fitting both?
Assortment of pictures that show our total innocence I think.
Eric and I coached football at Parkdale Collegiate for a few years. We enjoyed it very much. Why show this picture. Because in spite of
all the dumb things we did in our lives, we still got along very well. Still do.
Guns? In later years while doing a mining exploration job in water Alaska on the edge of the Bering Sea, our crew of five Canadianswere each
armed with big 30-06 rifles. Elephant guns in case we were attacked by Kodiak Bears. The pictures above make me look like a hunter.
Not so. When dropped by helicopter at an exploration point we stacked our rifles. Too heavy to carry. Never fired a shot all summer long.
No bear came very close. Bears do not like people much. We stink.
And here is Dad…striding purposefully up at the farm…hammer in one hand, his boots in the other.
God, we were lucky to have him as a playmate and protector and source of so much humour.
And finally the bullet hole…
Well, BB gun hole.