I grew up in a house surrounded by guns and bullets.1 After we moved to Ohio, squirrels were no longer on the menu, but in my youth, my Kentucky uncles would shoot squirrels and rabbits and the occasional woodchuck. So I had tasted all of those, usually fried in lard by my maiden aunt, who was for some reason called “Pete,” rather than “Edna Mae,” which was her real name.2
So steeped in gun culture was my family that my father gave my mother a single-shot rifle, which was nicknamed “Grandma,” for their first anniversary. Both of them later became certified rifle and pistol instructors. At age 12 my sister and I both received .22 rifles. We were a well-regulated little militia – three generations worth, if you count “Grandma.”
As if guns weren’t enough of a hobby, Dad also had a thing for bullets. And when I say “thing,” I mean a reloading tool. He would collect spent .38 cartridges (known as “brass”) from the rifle range. He would then put them on a machine operated by a lever that would, depending on the setting, straighten out the cartridges, seat a primer in the bottom, add the appropriate amount of gunpowder, and grease and seat a bullet,3 which was then ready to repeat its journey and reincarnate as empty brass. It was an early form of recycling that for some reason environmentalists never talked about.
Dad also had a hand tool that would reload a single bullet. It looked something like a Bedazzler, only more butch and greasier.
As I entered my teen years, I became more reluctant to spend my Saturdays on the father-daughter bonding experience of going to the rifle range. The smell of cordite in the morning was no longer so alluring. Guns were his hobby, and I was finding my own. Admittedly, crossword puzzles and Star Trek reruns would be less useful than target shooting after the zombie apocalypse, but the prematurely resurrected were not yet on the horizon.
When I was solidly ensconced in my teens and encountered high school, one of the educational exercises they inflicted on us was doing demonstration or “how-to” speeches in front of our English classes. It was a more sophisticated version of show-and-tell, with fewer goldfish. I don’t remember any of the other demonstrations, but mine was reloading bullets. It did nothing to lessen my reputation for oddity.
I took the hand reloading hand tool, an empty cartridge, a spent primer, and powder. I Bedazzled my way through all the steps, happy in the knowledge that, though I gave an entirely valid how-to demonstration, it would be utterly useless to the class.4
It’s worthwhile noting that I did not bring actual gunpowder to school. Instead I substituted iced tea powder.5
It got me an A. These days it would get me handcuffed and tasered.
1. The house was not surrounded by commandos with guns and ammo. The guns and bullets were in the house.
2. She got riled up if anyone called her Edna Mae. Admittedly, that still doesn’t explain the Pete. It caused some confusion when a neighborhood friend went visiting with us and in telling her mother about it, casually mentioned, “I slept with Pete.” She then had to explain (and quickly), “Oh, mother, Pete’s a girl!”
3. He made the bullets himself, too. He had a big chunk of lead, and he would melt it down and pour it into molds. (My mother made him do this outside, which was a Good Thing, because of the fumes and our tender, growing brains.) For those bullet-techies out there, what my Dad made were “wad-cutters,” a flat-nosed bullet used for target shooting. He sometimes substituted wax for lead and made lighter loads for starter pistols.
4. Maybe some of them are Doomsday Preppers now and wish they’d paid attention.
5. Which is ironic, considering how much I loathe the Tea Party and open-carry enthusiasts.