Essay: No Guns For Old Men
As we grow older, so do our parents. And we find ourselves trying to convince elderly parents to move out of their too big, too dangerous homes and into safer quarters. Most are met with resistance. Lake Effect essayist Mel Miksimen wasn't - at least not in the way she expected.
My 89-year-old father had come to his own conclusion to put the house up for sale that had been home for 63 years, the one he and my mother bought after they got married, and she said she'd never leave unless it was feet first, and well, that happened.
He made the decision after he'd gone out to the garage for a screwdriver, lost his balance and got himself wedged between the snow blower and the car and had to crawl back to the house because of the ice on the driveway, pretending he was a soldier on the beach at Normandy.
My sister and I found him a nice, one bedroom apartment in an upscaled senior community where women outnumber the men 4 to 1. He had caused several fluffy blue-haired heads to turn when we took the tour. Quite the catch. Full head of hair. Still able to drive. He was all in, until ... he read the fine print, under the photo of the vibrant elderly couple.
NO WEAPONS ALLOWED.
I counted 2 shotguns and 3 rifles inside the fancy, carved gun cabinet. Single barrel. Wood stocks. One had pump action.
"I've got a World War 2 carbine somewhere," he said from deep inside what had been my mother's closet.
He came back with 4 more rifles. 3 more shotguns. He brought out the .38 special, a six shooter, the one he wore holstered and strapped to his side for 40 years. More rifles came from under the bed. More shotguns from behind the bookcase. He spread his arsenal on top of the duck hunting themed quilt my mother had made, like a cache from a drug bust.
"What do they mean no weapons allowed?!"
"No guns, Dad," I said.
"Not even the hand guns? I've only got 5!"
He hooked his thumbs inside his red suspenders. Shook his head. I said a silent prayer to my departed mother to please not let this be a deal breaker. I couldn't take another winter worrying about him - what if there'd be a repeat of the screwdriver incident, and instead of D-Day he'd end up like Ernest Shackelton, frost covered with a tool in his frozen hand, wedged between the car and snowblower?
"I got that one, when I was 12." He pointed to a rifle with a burled stock.
"This one -" He gently lifeted a double barrel shotgun off an airborne pair of mallards. "I almost sold it, to pay the hospital bill after you were born."
And now he had to say good-bye to old friends that had served him well, supplied us with venison salamis, pheasant breasts, so many ducks.
Word had spread. Pals came sniffing around, gathering in small packs at the end of the driveway, like dogs had done that time our old labrador, Shadow, had gone into heat. Lucrative offers had been made, the kind a person would have been crazy not to take, but ... we couldn't. I mean, he had already sold his boat, his truck, had slowly given away his fishing equipment.
This felt like we were asking too much, like he wouldn't be him anymore. I just couldn't ... I mean, his face ... almost as drawn as the day my mother had gotten so sick ...
No. No. No.
We agree the guns would stay in the family. In a safe. The combination known only to Dad. He could visit them. Take them out. Make sure they were being looked after properly. And we agreed to do the same: visit him in his new apartment, take him out, make sure he was looked after properly.
It's the least we could do.
Mel Miskimen is the author of Cop's Kid and Sit, Stay, Heal. She lives in Milwaukee.