Honestly, it's been a while since I'd seen it. Because I live in one of the less well to do parts of town, it's a treasure I've not wanted to keep at home - a friend of mine has been looking after it for me. But her new roommate has teenagers, so I thought better to bring it back under my roof. And since another friend and I share the same experience of recently having sentimental treasures walk away with the conscience-impaired of the world, I thought it wise to document this one of mine now. So out came the camera.
And now here's the story.
This pistol is very special to me. Not for its utility, nor for its cost, though I suppose neither is inconsiderable. Nor for any symbolic value as a personal - and personalized - weapon, although it has that to.
No, this pistol is precious to me because of the time it came into my possession, and all that happened since.
It started about five years ago. My brother's death was still fresh with all of us, then another shockwave hit the family - my parents divorced. The reasons aren't important anymore, just know it was devastating as only the the dissolving of a near-forty year marriage can be.
My father was, as you can imagine, crushed under the weight of it. Since I was flailing around in the dark at the time to, we circled the wagons - I returned to Tennessee and for about three years lived again with my father for the first time since college. I'd known him as father all my life... for the first time I really got to know him as Dave, the man he is. Despite all the traumas, those are years I'd not trade for anything.
By way of explanation, we're a very left-leaning family. My father, God love him, still has a McGovern for President bumper sticker on his file cabinet in the study. Personal arms were something that just wasn't done in my family - I remember there was one .22 in the house when I was growing up, and even it was there because my grandfather insisted no daughter of his was going to live with a man who couldn't look after her proper. It came with my mom as part of the deal, I think.
So anyhow, that's as we were. I'd grown away from those beliefs myself over the years, especially in California. By the time I returned home, it was a point of polite disagreement between my father and myself.
One day though, he and I were out for a drive on the outskirts of town. Without a word, he pulled into the parking lot of a small gunstore. He was looking at the pistols, then asked a question that startled me.
"If you were going to get a pistol for the house, what would you suggest?"
photo by Oleg Volk
Flustered, I answered that what I would choose and what I'd recommend for him were different things, preferences and comfort being what they are. He asked again.
"Well..." I said... "probably that one" indicating a WWII reproduction 1911 from Springfield. The company had a good reputation, I had already grown to love the ergonomics of that pattern, and let's face it - it was the cheapest on the rack amongst the "good stuff."
To my shock, he bought it.
This pistol is thus one of the most meaningful gifts I've ever received. Not for what it is, but because of the spirit in which it was given. It's the tangible residue of my father reaching past whatever petty disagreements we might have had in order to strengthen the bond between us in a horrid time.
That would be enough for this lump of steel to always occupy a special place in my heart - but it didn't end there. At the same time I was staying with my father, I regularly visited friends the next city over. One happened to be quite possibly the brightest student of history and arms I've ever had the good fortune to meet, and again some of the brightest, best memories of my life have been in the company of her and her companions.
Nighttime on the porch was the best, especially when friends from all over came.
Everyone circled around the little firebox, trading stories the likes of which you can only hear amongst a bunch of Southern rascals, old vets, and the romantic at heart. Tales of Nelson's navy and Lee's army, of backwoods 'shiners and ne'er do wells, hunting tales and friendly gossip.
On the best of those nights, they passed around a book of Kipling, reading aloud. If you have never heard a voice break or seen a military man's eye glistened, lost anew in the echoes of "Tommy," well.. I can only say the loss is yours. Faulkner himself could not capture those nights.
So.. where was I?
Yes, the pistol. It was during this time that dear Tamara introduced me to a talented chef/gunsmith of her acquaintance, under who's tutelage I went about tweaking that pistol, trying to make it more my own. Swapping out some parts for those in a bin, rounding off all the edges (or "ruining" it he said), checkering the front strap... For most of the three years I was back in the South, that pistol sat in pieces in a box, coming out occasionally as I tried one thing or another he showed me. Sometimes I even did the work on that very porch so filled with stories.
It was only in the months leading up to my departure for Alaska that I begged that gifted smith to work his magic and finish it for me, so I might have it complete before I left.
So now here it is. It's been months since its stayed under my own roof, and I can't remember the last time I fired it... well over a year I think. These days my fingers are much more comfortable on fiddlestring or flute than trigger and slide - my own personal farewell to arms is well past now.
But this pistol remains a treasure. Memories of my friends and family flow through that steel like its very own blood. It could be a painting, an old carved armoire, or a finely wrought necklace. It happens to be a pistol.
There are none like it.
And it is mine.