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Art Lee's PrimeTime column: The thrills, planned and unplanned, of gaining your own BB gun

Art Lee, right, and his brother Bob sport their BB guns in 1939. Owning a BB gun was a sign of maturity and a chance to plink cans off fenceposts. Submitted Photo

There are certain marks and markers of attainment for a young kid slouching along that bumpy road, hoping soon to morph into a grown-up, whatever that exactly means.

Once it meant a passionate, slobbering, hungry longing -- and absolute MUST -- to acquire this or that, this meaning your first jackknife and that meaning your own BB gun.

Those were big-ticket items then to an indigent young boy.

But hey, luck happens.

If fortunate enough to somehow gain one or even both items, it was perceived as a grand-slam road to success -- and a sign of developing age when a year or two elevated one to a different (older) category. Your own BB gun! Wow!

Getting your first BB rifle was no small accomplishment, with initial opposition coming from mothers who yowled "NOOOOOO!" This outburst was always followed by the line, "You'll shoot your eye out!" and even worse, "You'll shoot somebody else's eye out!"

However, such negativism never stopped the lusting after a Daisy lever-action rifle, the ownership of which was certainly a sure sign of maturity -- the stuff of dreams, and clearly a fulfilled dream of future dented beer cans tumbling off the top of fence posts. Ahhh, the possibilities. .

Sure, we always called them BB guns although officially they were designated as air rifles, but the only kid in our tiny burg calling them air rifles was Delmar Sørenson, a big -city gink who came - actually was shipped off - in the summers to visit his grandma. And only his gram called him Delmar; we called him Stinky, or Stink for short. He earned his title for once naively wandering too close to this strange - for him - animal with white stripes on his back. Stink not only had a fancy super-spiffy BB gun, it was a Red Ryder make, not the common, standard model made by Daisy. His was super-duper!

Red Ryder was top shelf, as the old men in the Little Norway Bar phrased something being "the best." Stink's expensive gun - $9.95 - also had a strip of leather attached to a ring on the side of the barrel, there to hang the gun on your saddle horn while galloping on your quarter-horse to yonder canyon. But we didn't have a Red Ryder nor a canyon nor a horse nor a saddle, just hand-me-down everythings, including old bicycles with leaky, multi-patched balloon tires. Oh, and hand-me-down BB guns, too, whose flying, errant BBs zinged only in the general direction of the intended target. The bane of hand-me-downs, used guns never seemed to work right or shoot straight, so, depending, you learned to aim three inches high and two inches to the left in order to come even semi-close to the beer can you hoped to hit. But who cares if it doesn't shoot straight as long as it's yours? Yet even with his brand new Red Ryder special, Stink Sørenson could not shoot worth doodly. Heck, he couldn't hit a bull in the rear end with a grain shovel.

Whatever, buying any BB gun of any age can present a financial problem when your weekly allowance is 35 cents. Nor are one's liquid assets and cash flow much good when they total two dollars. Thus, the situation to acquire your own gun looked bad. Really bad. And sad. Bah-humbug and Boo-hoo. Nuthin'. Back to your homemade weapon, a sling-shot. Back to lusting.

And then came the surprise! Luck happens. Yah-sure, Manna from heaven - an offer from my older brother, age 11, to sell me his old BB gun for 10 cents. Wow! Really. Really? What's this? Is it for real? You kiddin' me? But why? The term caveat emptor was indefinable at that age but not trusting an older brother came naturally. Or should have. But naturally this fraternal warning thought was dismissed when the bargain-of-the-century was dangled before the awestruck victim. One thin dime? A deal!

Only after the single silver coin was passed from one grubby hand to the other did I soon learn the nasty motive behind this sudden sale: the gun had a hair-trigger - and worse; it would often fire by itself for little or no reason. Certainly the gentlest touch of the trigger and/or any bump touched off a shot regardless of where the barrel was pointed. Potential chaos thus reigned amok because after every cocking of the gun, danger and destruction lurked everywhere as the gun might fire anywhere at anything. Anarchy was loosed upon the world. Not one window in a house was safe, nor the eyeball of any bystander. It was Disaster just waiting to be fulfilled.

What can motivate an older brother to threaten Western Civilization by selling faulty firearms? The usual - Greed? Nope, not this time; it was Fear. He almost shot himself in the eye. It occurred the day before when he was wearing a big farmer's straw hat at the same time he was playing Soldiers with the neighbor boy; the Daisy was in his right hand as he heard the order of "Attention!" He stood stiff and erect, then went to place the gun beside him, and in so doing banged the butt on the ground and the shot went off, the BB grazing his right cheek before hitting the brim of his hat. The hat went sailing; the gun went on sale.

Thankfully there was another bigger, older brother - at an ancient 16 - and most importantly, one with mechanical knowhow, who normally never deigned to even look at, let alone talk to his lowly siblings - "little jerks" - but just this once roared his voice more threatening than compassionate, "Hey, Mousebrain, before you shoot some guy in the eye, gimme that dumb gun and I'll fix it." And he did.

Today the old Daisy BB gun stands rusting in the corner of our garage. But it still works, and the grandsons love it, even when a successful aim may require the sighting to be one inch higher and two inches to the right of the target. Whatever, two generations later, dented beer cans are still falling off the posts.