Sunday, August 04, 2013


Every autumn the fire department put on a turkey shoot as a fund raiser. No turkeys were involved — or rather there were turkeys but they were already firmly dead, frozen solid, and stowed in the back of the rescue truck. Instead, the men paid a dollar, lined up, and took turns firing shotguns at a beer coaster attached to the end of a wooden arm. As soon as a shot was fired, the arm would be swiveled away behind a protective barrier, and a man hidden from sight would set a fresh target into place. The coasters were marked with numbers, and once all of the shooters had taken a turn the results were tallied; the contestant who had pierced his target with the greatest number of pellet holes was awarded a turkey, and another round began. There was beer in abundance, cola and hot dogs for the kids. The women, who didn't shoot, stood off to one side.

The boy had never fired a gun before, and could barely wield the heavy shotgun, even though it was the lightest gauge. The kick from the exploding shell left his shoulder sore for days. He competed three times, and never nicked the target.

Many of the men in the neighborhood were hunters, and some belonged to hunting camps upstate where plumbing wasn't part of the package. One winter a man shot a bear, brought it home, and slung it over a tree branch that overhung the road in front of his house. The schoolchildren walking down the hill to the bus stop in the morning gazed up at the icicle of frozen blood that descended from the animal's snout. Someone must have said something to the man because the bear had disappeared by the time the kids came home.

Two houses up the road lived another man and his family, three or four little kids including twins. He had poor vision and an out-of-state driver's license, and he belonged to a patriotic group that sometimes left leaflets on parked cars. It was said that he owned a mortar and had once demonstrated its use to some of the neighbors by firing a can of peas into a nearby pasture full of cows. Once some boys playing in the woods behind his house found a wooden crate with stenciled markings; it seemed to contain some kind of canisters or shells. The boys left it alone, and kept their discovery to themselves. The man dug a fallout shelter deep beneath his lawn and stocked it with provisions in case the Russians attacked. One morning the state police came, seized a quantity of firearms and materiel, and led the man away in handcuffs. A year or so later the family moved away.

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