As I read of the latest mass shooting I was thinking that soon we would all know someone killed or injured by a gun and I felt the urge to once again post a rant about the deadly American disease of gun-love.
Then I suddenly remembered, for the first time in a long while, my early encounter with an angry man with a gun. I was six-years-old when my mom was shot. She wasn’t dangerously injured so it became a minor piece of family lore—but it really wasn’t minor at all. It’s just that in America we’ve always accepted angry or careless or stupid or fearful men with their very own much-loved weapons of mass destruction.
Here’s the story I once wrote about mom getting shot.
Once a German shot Mom.
Herald-Review, Grand Rapids, MN: January 3, 1945—Mrs. Swan Neset of Nore Township was seriously injured when struck by a load of fine shot fired by a man shooting at a stray dog.
The big round table covered with red-checked oilcloth, clear blue plates with white bread, butter, the last piece of apple pie, a half-eaten dried beef sandwich, almost-empty coffee cups. Windows covered with the thick shine of ice. Wood-burning cookstove, black coffee simmered down to tar in a banged up old pan.
Mom’s sitting slumped over by the table, she’s crying and talking and trying to cut the leg off her shot-riddled chore pants so she can tend to her wounds. She was milking cows at Grandma’s and, as she and our big brown shepherd Pal walked home, mom carrying a lantern, Gus Senkpiel shot her. Commotion reigns. Dad’s gone to borrow a car for the trip to the doctor’s. Robert and I are crouched under the table where we are close to mom but out of the way. We are more bewildered than fearful. I clearly remember the confusion and how it seemed Robert and I could help. We would find a car and drive mom to Dr. Palmer’s. Robert (age two!) could operate the things on the floor and I would steer and we would save mom. Please stop crying mom.
The man who shot mom was a grouchy German transplant living in the midst of a community of Norwegian immigrants near the end of WWII when Norway was occupied by Germany. When he shot through the trees at flickering lantern light he knew what he was doing. He was hurting my family. He had been angry ever since dad pounded two planks in the shape of a V (for Victory) on our garage door, which faced Gus’ house, and painted them white, the better to show up against black tarpaper.
The sheriff came the next day and Gus said he thought he was shooting at a dog or maybe wolves. Mom refused to press charges. All of her life, she carried much of the shot in her leg because the doctor said it was safest to leave it in. It caused some pain over the years but was never debilitating. And it never seemed like a big deal. How strange it that?
My dad and mom both hated guns so those nasty little (or big) killing tools had never yet appeared in our house. My brother would go through a fairly lengthy phase of gun-love but he never seemed to be engaging in collecting for purposes of making himself feel more manly…while the rest of us never really liked it, gun-worship was such an accepted part of the culture that we hardly noticed it was ever-present. We did not yet comprehend that it was societal poison, a threat to the very fabric of what we innocently thought of as the ‘American way of life’ which represented safety and security for all. Didn’t it?
As previous rants have attested, I loath guns. I am trying to work out my own explanation of how America came to be the Land of Gun-Love above every other emblem for which we could have stood? We aren’t the only racist country, the only country that had a frontier, the only country with lot of guns available. Yet no other country worships them, is ready to sacrifice their children for those tools designed solely for killing. What in the world are we thinking?