You imagine him, young, angry, and black. You imagine that moment at the turning, when the little boy someone once loved picks up a Glock, turns it sideways in his hand gansta style, and whispers, “pow, pow, pow.” For the first time in his young life, he feels power.
In your liberal heart, you know this is wrong. If you blame the boy, you fear you’re a racist. Something emanates from that hard plastic and dark steel to make it all go wrong, that must be it.
You can’t imagine, don’t want to imagine another man, perhaps of another era, where it was all so different. Whether you want him or not, here he is, not in the killing moment. You may be crass enough to ask the million-dollar question, but you’ve done nothing to earn the right to see anything that personal.
I sink into my own chaos. The past assaults me from every direction when I try to put my house in some illusion of order.
I don’t even entirely know what I have. Some drawers have been opened only a few times in the last generation. For the past few months, I kept passing a set of handgun stocks left on the sideboard. Something unsettled stayed me from slipping them into a drawer with the clutter of generations past. They came from an otherwise perfectly preserved Colt New Service .45 caliber revolver made in 1924. Part of the reason I picked up the revolver cheap was those garish plastic grips, which I replaced the next day with correct period walnut. In my negotiations with the dealer, aside from the grips, I told him I would have to replace the mainspring because a New Service action with a double action pull that light wouldn’t work reliably.
The gun did work. The action had seen the touch of a master. Probably no one alive can do that kind of job on the long obsolete Colt 1908 action. To replace parts and get one functioning is about my limit.
Some days in passing, I would pick these stocks up and run my fingers over them. Something about them demanded touch. Something was wrong. They were too heavy; the butt had a too concentric grain pattern inconsistent with the aging expected of plastic. Those little cross hatchings at the butt looked as if they had once belonged to something alive, and I remembered the stock’s perfect fit on the revolver’s frame—again inconsistent with mass marketed plastic. Grip frames are machined and replacement handles will never show the proud fitting of either the original or hand fitted custom work.
I researched material identification. These stocks couldn’t be bone, which would have been nice. Stag or bone has an inherent roughness. These had an unbelievable butter-smooth sensuous feel under the caress of a fingertip.
The determining test was the hot needle. A needle heated in flame is touched to the material. Plastic melts. Bone smells like hair, and ivory remains aloof, unmarked.
Did I dare? I hesitated for days. Sometimes imagination is best. What could have been beats what is.
I heated the needle in a stove flame and held it with needle-nosed pliers to the inside of the grips where the heat would do the least noticeable damage if the grips proved to be plastic. Nothing. Hopes soared, but maybe I had been too cautious with the amount of heat applied. I held the needle in the flame longer. Still nothing. My nose near the material detected nothing burning, nothing melting. Refusing to accept what I suspected, I heated the needle until it glowed red and shoved it hard against the inside of the grips. A dot of black appeared, and my heart sank until a quick stroke with my handkerchief erased the black. The grips remained unmarred. The black dot was only carbon residue from the needle.
The grips were old elephant ivory.
In the old days before it became so valuable ivory was prized for handgun stocks because it was tougher and would take a beating walnut or gutta percha couldn’t. Its flaws were that it picked up stains from mud or blood, which removes the material for my daily use. When am I going to have a day when I know I won’t be in the mud or blood?
This revolver was what I thought I wanted for everyday use, but I can’t subject an irreplaceable reminder of a time that won’t come round again to the harshness of my daily life, and if I used it enough, someday I’d be faced with tuning the action, a skill beyond my experience.
External evidence suggested someone soon after 1924 set this Colt up as the perfect fighting weapon, the best available in its time, and never used it, someone’s dream somehow set aside and lost, a life imagined, and never lived.
I liked my tuning on a modern Smith & Wesson better than anything I’ve seen out of their custom shop. Yet, I can take a Smith & Wesson significantly heavier with a lighter caliber, and superior modern sights, and when I really crank it out rapid fire, I can’t quite keep up with the old Colt. Even pulling the trigger as fast as I can, at close range the shots from the old Colt want to touch on the paper. With a tuned Smith & Wesson made after the 60’s for me to reach that level requires warm up and discipline. The old hand checkered trigger wants to be stroked.
Sometimes the right mechanical device jerks my whole being into a world I never thought I would touch. It’s as if I can reach across time and know what I shouldn’t be able to know.
It’s a shame the two will never meet, the old man and the boy. We have a society who refuses to acknowledge the boy is wrong or the old man exists. They could learn much from the other.
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