colt officers model .45 acp
By Mike Searson - Own work, CC0,
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I’m certain that I think about mortality more than your average twenty-something. I’m not sure why exactly, and maybe I should spend more time thinking about why I think about mortality than thinking about mortality. If I had to pin it down, it might have something to do with a life inclusive of a wife who spends her days as a nurse working in hospice care.

There’s nothing quite so humbling as your wife looking across the dinner table, tears in her eyes, and relaying the story of a dying child who said, “Mommy, you told me that only old people die to make room for babies. I’m not supposed to be dying because I’m not old.”

That starts to take a toll on a woman, and to some extent her man as well. The Kee house, you see, counts death as a nearly constant companion. A roommate if you will. And over the years, we’ve come to accept our roommate, embrace our roommate, and most importantly, live our lives with the understanding that our time here is finite. I’d hazard a guess that a good portion of our readers are more likely to set up a NFA trust than click the “add to cart” button for paperwork to set up advance directives. Our home got the latter first. Priorities man, you gotta have priorities.

Another reason mortality invades my thoughts regularly is that I’ve lost all but one of my grandparents in the span of the last three years. All of their deaths were sad, no two ways about it, but I take solace in the fact that all of them, to a person, lived full lives. They lived, they loved, they laughed, built homes, bought cars, sent kids to college, and generally made their mark, most of them positive, on my life and the lives of others.

photo (3)

I’ve got one left now. My maternal grandfather. He’s turning ninety soon, and has by all objective metrics checked every box along the way. He was married to a beautiful, happy, loving woman for 62 adventurous years. He earned his private and instrument pilot’s licenses. Ferried airplanes. Ran a small business. Served his country. And, most impactful to my life, he produced two wonderful daughters who went about producing three wonderful grandkids, and one opinionated Texan writer.

He’s a gem of an old man. Truly the last of a dying breed. At nearly ninety, he’s a bit more wobbly on his feet, but his mind is still sharp and he’s quick to cut a witty, sometimes dirty, joke. He and I have never lived close, but he’s always been a strong presence in my life, and each holiday since I got my first rifle, I could count on a brick of .22 LR under the tree. The Bushnell scope my Ruger American Rifle wears is from Christmas in Illinois the year I turned 12. Which brings me to the gun thing.

My grandpa owned a sum total of three guns in his life that I know of. The first, a 20 guage Ithaca pump shotgun with an engraving of a pheasant hunt on the receiver, passed to him from a distant aunt. The second, a Remington Model 11 that needed stout 12 gauge loads to cycle properly. It was a present for my grandmother, the year after she received a bowling ball, and the year before she got a shiny new push mower. Notice a trend?

I know a lot about both of those shotguns because both of them ended up in my possession as a teenager. And, in what I consider to be a top five greatest tragedy of my life, they’re gone. Unfortunately, neither of them functioned properly and on the advice of my gunsmith, who told me they weren’t worth the money to fix, I sold both of them to a pawnbroker for a pittance. This was a long, long time before I understood that even non-functioning firearms have a purpose.

But alas, there may be salvation for my gunny soul. I mentioned he owned three guns I know about. The last, a Colt Officer’s Model 1911, rounds out the trio. In the list of guns I’d buy for myself tomorrow, a chrome Officer’s Model 1911 is way, way, way down the list. I’m not a .45 guy. I’m definitely not a shiny gun guy. And I’m only marginally a 1911 guy. But gosh that gun might be the most important gun in the universe to me. More important than my first rifle. More important than the first gun I bought for myself. And definitely more important than the gun my mother bought to celebrate my graduation from college. So important that I’d pass on a bespoke H&H or all the lower receivers in the world to ensure that it ends up in my safe when he passes away.

The thing about a firearm, any firearm, but especially a metal and wood clad one, is that it is a very durable good. Photos yellow and curl. Quilts wither to rags, and furniture breaks down and turns to dust. But a well-maintained firearm, especially one well built as well as a 1911, that’s something that will last for generations. And for those looking to cement a legacy, I’d argue that not much is better at doing it than a firearm. One example springs to mind.

When my coworker’s father passed away, he left him a very large collection of guns. From recently acquired GLOCKs, to barely used Model 70s, along with several really cherry lever guns. His father was also quite a collector of Thompson Center Encore pistols for silhouette shooting. And, as the only child, they naturally went to my coworker when his father passed.

We’ve gone shooting a few times, and while my friend is certainly a competent shooter, he’s by no means a gun nut. And he’s certainly not to the level of “nuttery” that his father was. But put an old 10/22 in his hands, one from the early 70’s when his father first bought it, and my coworker’s eyes light up. Inevitably, I’ll soon hear a story about his old man. Something he did, a place they went, a gun he fawned over. It doesn’t matter which gun my coworker has in his hands at the time, as long as it is one from his father’s collection, I can be assured that we’ll take a walk down memory lane.

My wife tells me that for her, it’s old books. Even when someone has passed on, she can crack their favorite book open, and spend some time with them. For me, it’s guns. The photo at the top is of another 1911. One that my father bought in the early 80’s for self defense. Given my sister’s lack of enthusiasm for firearms, I’m reasonably certain that the guns go to me in the will. Likewise, I know that when my grandfather passes away, I’ll end up with his 1911. I don’t think anybody else in the family is interested it it. And like him, I’ll rarely shoot it.

For the most part, it will spend its days locked away in a dark, climate-controlled, carpeted environment free from abuse, neglect, and humid air. But every now and again, I’ll take it out to the range, and remember how my grandfather smelled, the way he called me “honey”, how his eyes seemed to get brighter when he heard a funny joke, or the way he used to caution me with the words “gentle now” when we did a project together.

We’ve never gotten to shoot that gun together, a situation that gets harder and harder to remedy every day. But I know that for the rest of my life, I’ll have an object he held, that sat in his bedside table, ready to be called to action in time of need. Something more durable than a photo. Warmer than any quilt. And certainly more interesting than a chest of drawers.

For those of you with kids or grandkids, know that your trips to the range are making an indelible mark on their soul. And know that long after you’re gone, they’ll pick up a gun that you both held together, think fondly about some memory they have of you, and remember you as clearly as if you were still standing next to them.

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  1. Some of my guns are three generations old. But considering my family was in the habit of keeping everything I’m surprised I don’t have any that are older. I’ve got a sword and commission papers that are six generations old.

    • Yup. Have an old 22 from my Grandfather that my son keeps an eye on. He also knows that all my firearms and misc. items are willed to him. I’m hoping if i have grandchildren, they’ll have at least one, add their own, and pass them along.

      I don’t keep collector grade firearms. They are all utilitarian and are used on the farm.

  2. No matter what laws get passed, all of my children will have access to scary looking firearms with no need to ever set foot in a gun store and no need to share, because I love them.

  3. I have a .410 side-by-side from the 60s my grandpa gave me last year, and my dad (selfishly 🙂 ) kept the rest of grandpa’s gun cabinet when he decided his eyes were getting too bad this Thanksgiving. They will absolutely stay in the family.

    As cool as my M1 and other C&R guns are, the old, cheap .410 is one of my favorite because it came from him and has a story behind it. Apparently it has been the death of many squirrel. While dad and I were moving the guns over Thanksgiving, I found a box of .243 reloads he worked up, dated 1980. 35 years ago! There were only two shots left, so Dad and I each took a shot. I kept the box and the handwritten notes on powder, bullet, etc. I like the box almost as much as I like that .410!

  4. My mother still has my father’s guns, and I imagine I will let my brother have them, for the simple fact I already have a 12 Gauge and (multiple) .22 rifles. He’s the oldest anyway.

    My father-in-law, on the other hand, has a rather large collection of handguns and rifles. He has two daughters, with my wife being the only one interested in firearms. He’s also got a rather large and valuable stamp collection, I figure we’ll angle for the guns and reloading equipment and let the sister in law have the stamps.

    Granted, I hope this is a long time down the road, and hope that perhaps a will can be involved so we don’t have to wrangle.

  5. Tyler – My “empathies” to you and “Mrs. Kee, R.N.” My wife has been volunteering at our local hospice, working with patients for about 10 years. Some are fighting to keep from going, and others can’t wish it upon themselves soon enough. When I lost my mom (before step-mom and dad), I was provided a great resource in the book, “FINAL GIFTS: Understanding the Special Awareness Needs and Communication of the Dying,” by Maggie Callanan. Don’t know if you and/or the Mrs. have read it, but you’ll find great comfort in Nurse Callanan’s words.

    As far as legacy firearms go, hopefully I’ll be around to pass all of them on to my first grand-daughter, Morgan Page, aka: “Danger” M., due this February, when the time comes.

    My best to you.

  6. My best friend and I have been conspiring on my son’s first “real” rifle for deer hunting. He has a Crickett .22LR. But we are now in the age of getting him his first serious gun and we both agreed that we want him to have guns that are worth holding on to and passing down. Maybe a CZ with a Mannlicher stock in .243.

    • CZ is not a bad choice at all, lots of respect for them, i have. But a savage will shoot better, accutrigger for the win.

  7. I couldn’t begin to guess how many times I’ve heard my dad complain about the scumbag brother that cleaned out grampa’s gun collection(and anything else of value) before the body was cold. No way would my grandfather have allowed it to happen and by the time any of us noticed(priorities… funeral, grandmother) it was too late.

    Write it down people! Make sure the vulture of the family doesn’t abscond with(and pawn) a legacy meant for someone else.

    Dad misses the rifles he grew up with as well as the rifles he bought for his father, the same rifles I learned to shoot with years later and it makes me sad to even guess at where they ended up.

    • Good point. Not every family member values the guns or knows their value. My grandfather, who I lived 6,000 miles from and never knew well, left behind dozens of guns, including a 1903 Springfield and a pristine WW2-issue M1911. Unfortunately, he did not pass on his love of hunting or shooting to his sons, and the guns were reputedly sold off for $240.

  8. Them feelz…
    My grandfather passed away last fall, before I could even get a ticket to fly up and see him. He left me a beautiful Kar98k Mauser that I will someday pass on to my child or grandchild.

  9. A buddy of mine and I were driving to the range, and he was telling me about buying a very nice Browning shotgun for his father, who is fairly old. I made a comment about what a nice present that was. His response was along the lines of “you’re kind of buying it for yourself.” He had a pretty good point.

  10. This is why I keep my grandfather’s vintage .22 7-shot by U.S. Revolver Co.

    It wasn’t a high-end item in the first place, and appears to have suffered quite a bit of dry firing (likely at the hands of young cousins) that rendered the cylinder nearly unusable. The experience of firing just a few rounds from it convinced me to remove the firing pin, just to make sure it wouldn’t fail catastrophically for a future shooter.

    But I keep it anyway. For memories…

  11. Have an Arisaka from my gramps (nearing 101,) in a safe – last time it was fired was at him. He was also able to pass on a Liberator. Couldn’t pay me to fire that metal stamped hand mauling trap! (probably much sturdier than I assume) These will not be leaving the family if at all possible.

  12. My grandmother gave me a bolt action .22 rifle when I was 16 that had already been through three generations of our family. Now my nephews have been able to shoot it, making 5 generations. I think it would be worth about $120 to a gun store, but to me it’s worth more than money could ever buy.

  13. One of the best things I’ve seen on TTAG in a while.

    An excellent piece sir. You and your wife will pass on (hopefully not for many years) two things worth the passing on: tools and books. A carefully selected battery and library, each piece chosen for a reason and associated with memories are beautiful things to pass on to our offspring.

  14. I’ve got my Springfield .22 that belonged to my dad and his dad.
    They used it to feed the family in lean depression times.
    It will be my granddaughters in due time.
    (And by the way Tyler, your wife is a saint)

  15. I have the strong suspicion that by the time I’m old enough to hand a gun down to someone, the ability to do so will be illegal.

  16. I still have the single shot .22 that my Dad bought in 1931 for $5. It’s nothing spectacular. But the old man could strike a match at 50 yards with it. I shot my first rabbit with that gun. I will treasure it forever and pass it on to one of my grandsons.

  17. I came to this realization myself recently, just cracking into my 30s.

    Stop hoarding plastic guns, Get 1 maybe 2 that are functional and cool enough to shoot regularly but would be exciting for someone to receive.

    So now I transition from wonder 9’s to steel 45’s.

    I may get another one someday but I’m going to see how long I can go without buying another pistol, whereas previously I was on track to try and “catch them all” of the austrian makes. Still have the Glocks, but attempting to relegate them to the safe. If I’m honest, I’m not a door kicker.

  18. This is actually the reason I haven’t bought any pink guns for myself, even though I like them well enough. My heirs are males.

  19. My great-grandfather (of whom I am namesake) had occasion to defend himself a couple of times with his .32 pistol, presumably a single-action revolver. How I wish that gun were still kicking around the family!

    My father owns a couple of heirlooms-in-the-making: a pair of Winchester 1894s bought ca. 1956 from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. One (his) is in 30-30, and the other (his father’s) is in 30-30’s poorer cousin, .32 WS. Both are in good shape for their age. He also has the Winchester 67, a single-shot .22 rifle, and the single-shot break-action .410 shotgun he used to defend his home at the ripe age of 11.

    And come to think of it, I have four children.

  20. Don’t like shiny guns huh? I just bought a Ruger GP100 and spent probably 6 or 7 hours doing a trigger job and polishing the gun out. Now it looks like a piece of art is magnificent looking in a black holster.
    I’m not sure I can bring myself to shoot it. It’s the exact opposite of my black guns yet more beautiful.

  21. I have no children. My only heir is an irresponsible adult nephew who wouldn’t know one end of a gun from another.

    I’ve set up a gun trust and put all my hardware into the trust. I’ve chosen a close friend who is much younger than I am, and that I know appreciates the value (both material and sentimental) of all that’s in it to be the successor trustee and beneficiary. It’s someone that I know will use them properly, donate them to an appropriate organization, or otherwise make sure they wind up in the right hands.

  22. I have my grandfather’s Winchester Model 53 in .44-40 from the 1920’s. It was his deer rifle. Iron sights so no long range shooting, but .44-40 WCF is basically a medium velocity pistol round. When I fired it at the range this week I was asked all about it. It is a thing of beauty next to today’s black rifles. The barrel is perfect, but there is surface rust on the receiver. It is not museum quality, which makes it a great old timer to shoot.

  23. Great read!

    I am going to buy a Browning A5 and I plan on handing it down to my kids. My heart says buy the functional Camo version but my heart has the gorgeous Walnut version on order.

  24. I can’t believe your grandfather gave his wife and lawnmover as a present and is still alive at 90. That is one brave man.

    I’ll get my Father in Law’s fairly modest collection when he passes on – I’m the only other person in the family with firearms.

    I’m interested in getting a couple of really nice .22lr lever guns to give to my boys as “their” first guns when they are old enough (though they’ll still reside in my safe). I was thinking Henrys but interested in any recommendations.

    • You can’t go wrong with the Henry lever guns, especially for kids who are likely to beat them up a bit (they’re inexpensive enough that you won’t cry when the wood gets scratched up). The Browning BL-22 is a bit more of an “heirloom” piece, with nicer fit and finish (and a price to match), and has a really fast, short throw (though the Henry’s action feels a bit smoother). The Henry is made in America, while the Browning is made in Japan, if that’s a consideration for you.

      Of course, Henry makes nicer “heirloom” models, too, like the Golden Boy or any of the engraved versions.

  25. My family does have a family gun an old llama 380 my grand father bought way back. Although I do not know whether I will be able to inherit it myself, since the gun is overseas.

    I already about a few guns that could become new family gun state side though, the top pick right now is a Howa Thai police M1 carbine. I am also planning to build AR15s with family engravings. Now I just need kids.

  26. Bunch of plastic he’ll get after me, but to speed up that process I jumped over owning it to straight out buy him, of course a PPK.

    Also worthy generational guns he’ll get are the
    Ruger .22 Single Six I bought in 76
    Model 25 bolt
    Model 39 Golden Mountie
    Savage 311C double 20 that I got for Cristmas at 14.
    He will also inherit the smell of Hoppe’s #9

  27. I’ve already given all my kids that like guns at least one each. Might as well let them have them now so they can enjoy them. Whenever I buy a replacement for a gun I gave the kids I tell my wife I’m starting on the grandkids guns. She can’t expect me to show favorites, can she?

      • I have given guns to people other than family to get them started. Mostly budget .22s and Mosin Nagants when they were cheap…….er.

        • I did the same with the Mosins. Back in the day, when you could get them for $60 a piece, I bought 2 cases of them. I cut them to 20″, floated and glass bedded them, put on a recoil pad, refinished them and slugged the bores for proper caliber. And I’m still giving them away to friends and family who really want to learn to hunt but don’t have a rifle. By the way, with that work done, which really doesn’t take much money at all, just time, those Mosins will shoot on par with most new factory bolt guns.

  28. I got a Swiss,luger from my grandfather. It was his fathers sidearm during ww1. Whenever my mom lets me take it out we talk about the family and my grandfathers 6 years in the Swiss army. It’s my most treasured possession and I would never sell it.

  29. I have my grandfather’s FN Browning 1922 .32 ACP he won in a poker match. I like it because not only was it his and I like semi-auto’s but it has history behind it. It was built during WW2 at Herstal by the Germans for the Luftwaffe. Don’t know how my grandpa being a WW2 Navy pilot in the Pacific was able to enter a tournament to get a American designed, German manufacturered on Belgian equipment gun but he did.

    My brother ended up with the rest of the stuff which is fine since I am not a revolver, .22, or shotgun person anyway. Plus I already have a sizeable collection wheras he had none so it was only fair. At least I know he will keep and treasure them.

  30. From my father to me and on to my son, an M1 Garrand, a 6″ Colt Anaconda, 1911 70s series, a Browning hammerless 12g side by side from about 1910. Winchester 30-30 and various shot guns.

  31. I have given my older daughter her great great grandmother’s breakdown Browning .22. I bought her the presentation case for it a couple of years ago. My son gets the Winchester Model 12 (26 ” barrell and vent rib) my father bought when I was one year old. Now I have to find something to hand down to my younger daughter. I have my eye on a Browning Hi Power Practical in 9mm.

  32. Great story Tyler. In my younger days I volunteered in a pediatric ward of Illinois Masonic Hospital in Chicago. I know exactly how your wife feels. I have 4 sons and none give a damn about guns( I only got into this 4 years ago). All are grown. But I get your point. Having them turn out well is a great reward-3 out of 4 anyway. I never found out what happened to my dads guns either( the stepmom thing). That’s a great grampa you got there too…

  33. I have a collection of guns that will go to my son. But rather than having him wait until I pass, I buy duplicates of those that he likes and give them to him on significant events.

    My brother has our Dad’s deer rifle, and has been instructed that if he ever needs money or no longer wants it, I am talking custody.

  34. I have 2 I care about amongst everything in the safe. My great grandfather’s 300 savage and 12 gauge both with hunting scenes carved into the stock by him and passed on to me via my grandfather then grandmother to me.

  35. I have 2 guns, an over under Savage 24 that I killed my first deer with and a 1948 Winchester 94, that I have always had. By that I mean they were stored under my bed when I was a baby. I’ve never known life without them. My kids are already shooting them. For a birthday present when he turned 6, my oldest son got a single shot Stevens .22lr that was my uncle’s when he was a child of the same age. It is at least 100 years old, and shoots great, and last year one of my uncle’s passed down my grandfather’s .410 to him. Lucky kid.

  36. For my son, there’s my old SMLE No. 4 Mk. 1; he’s welcome to it. For my daughter who is considerably younger, probably my AR, since I’m teaching her how to shoot with an airsoft AR.

  37. Oh my. What timing for this article. I’ve been passed along my grandmother’s .22 to keep and restore. It was bought for her by my grandfather in the 30’s, though he used it frequently for hunting. A lot of rabbit and squirrel found their way into the dinner pot from this gun. It’s the gun on which my mom was taught to shoot. Some day it will go to my son.

    This is a .22 Springfield 53a, an inexpensive but excellent gun made by Stephens before they became a part of Savage. By .22, it’s rated for .22LR, .22 long and .22 short on the barrel. Single shot, bolt action, 24″ barrel, and an absolutely sweet trigger with no creep and a crystal clean break at maybe 2lbs. The stock was decorated with rhinestones by my grandfather for my grandmother. The irons adjust for elevation, but not windage. My mom told me she couldn’t remember if it shot just a bit to the left or if you had to aim a tad left.

    Doesn’t have an extractor or a safety. Of course, since you have to 1) insert the round, 2) close the bolt and 3) cock the hammer before the gun can fire, an additional manual safety really is rather pointless.

    While it hasn’t been fired since the early 1970’s, at best, it has been very well cared for. It looks like it really only needs a decent clean and lube to be back in functioning order. I’ll do that initial work myself and have a gunsmith give it a once-over before firing it. Then I’ll refinish the stock and replace the (mostly missing) rhinestones. I’m really looking forward to both the project and the shooting. Between the trigger and the way it shoulders and naturally sights in, it’s going to be fun.

  38. I wish I had some kids to pass down my collection to. My son was born a little over 2 pounds and lived 104 days, finally dying peacefully in my arms in the hospital. On the day of his birth, I had all sorts of dreams. plans and aspirations for him. As the weeks went by and his health problems continued to get worse, I saw all my dreams and hopes die with him. My dad recently gave me a few of his long guns, including a nice Berreta 12 ga. over & under trap gun in a factory case. I suck at shooting trap, but I can appreciate the beauty and quality of the gun. My oldest heirloom is my maternal grandfather’s great grandfather’s single shot 12 ga. The gun was made in the 1870’s and the stock was cut down 2″ to fit a kid somewhere in it’s history and then a shaped piece of 2 x 4 was nailed to the butt after the kid grew up. The recoil pad is a shaped piece of tire tread. There is some old black cloth electrical tap where a barrel band used to be, and the firing pin replaced with a pointed monster that actually perforates the primers. I have never shot it. My grandfather passed away 5 years before I was born, so I have never seen it fired. The barrel was sawed down to 20″ and my grandfather had nick-named it “Ol’ Fuzee” after the railroad flares he used on the job. I am assuming it was because of the flames blasting out the muzzle from the blackpowder shells he preferred using. The gun is ugly as sin. Just about every piece on it has been abused, replaced and just plain beat up on, but there is not a spec of rust on it. I have dutifully cleaned and oiled it every couple of years before replacing it on it’s rack of honor. I’d never sell it. The gun has almost a century and a half of stories, some documented with photos. There is one photo of my grandfather and one of his hunting buddies standing over a huge pile of game they killed and their poor hunting dog looks as dead as the pheasants and rabbits he is sleeping next to. I’d have to guess the photo was taken sometime around 1920 +/- 5 years. Many of the stories I know came from my grandmother and some from a couple of his hunting buddies that knew grandpa later in life. My problem is who do I leave this to? My brother has a daughter that just won’t appreciate this old shorgun. My sister’s daughters don’t shoot. I have some cousins, but they all have daughters that don’t hunt or shoot. There are no boys, and the girls are not interested.

  39. Fine article Tyler . A couple of commentsMy 911 is a stainless Steel model which I purchased new from “Der Gunmeister” on the Harper road just north of Kerrville TX. It shoots hollow points perfectly although I only use Winchester Supreme Elite amo which is made in East Alton, IL just a few miles from my home in Godfrey IL. The other comment refers to the handsome Dude wearing a suit with a red tie taken at Tyler and Mollys wedding. He is looking for a beautiful woman aged 40 to 70 to take care of him. No dogs please. Even tho he knows that all the plastic imported pistols are better than my 911 when I leave it to him I’ll bet he keeps it.

  40. Thanks for the posted. It’s great to see so many of us have the same kind of love for our kids. I have 3 sons and I’m preparing 3 guns for each of them. One handgun each, 1 hunting rifle each, and 1 AR each. The handguns and hunting rifles are completed. Now working on 2 more AR-15.

  41. I just found out that my uncle’s Ithaca (the only remaing gun of his collection) was passed down to my father’s wife’s son on law. How should I feel a about that? Ive been very upset and can’t get it off of my mind. How would you react?


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