I grew up in Tennessee, a free state. My father was a country boy, a squirrel hunter and a fly fisherman. He used to make his own flies from old flip-flops and try his luck down on the Cumberland or Harpeth Rivers. My grandfathers both served in WWII; Air Force through-and-through. My mom’s little brother has been an avid hunter his entire life. Growing up, I think firearms must’ve been such a part of every day living that I never noticed them as anything unusual. As was the fishing pole, the rake, the textbook and the dog food bowl, so was the gun part of my “normal” . . .
Thus, I can’t sit here and I say I grew up around guns or that I didn’t. I just grew up and there were guns; stored responsibly no doubt. They weren’t avidly discussed or deliberately avoided, nor were they glorified or vilified. In retrospect, they were occupying a space of neutrality and purpose. And that was good.
I was a busy kid, the eldest of four. My parents split up when I was eleven and in school I focused on grades and athletics. I didn’t shoot a lot. My father moved to Florida and with him went the opportunity to learn more about guns. My uncle lived in St. Louis so hunting was out. My grandfathers both worked, a lot. The only firearm exposure I had at that age was through the Boy Scouts of America.
I loved being a Scout. I started in grade school with probably twenty other boys and was only one of three who went all the way to earn my Arrow of Light. The scouts had a merit badge for rifle shooting and I relished earning it. I latched on to the ideals associated with scouting: doing a good deed every day, helping people, learning and earning. But there’s a huge difference in being prepared and being a realist. The Scouts made me an idealist and sometimes that juxtaposes with being prepared. Life would intervene and settle that dichotomy for me.
I left the Scouts when I left for college. Through college I never even thought about guns. I was focused on just about everything else: grades, girls, money and sleep. I started working during the summers in between semesters so I could feed that money part I mentioned. Just so happens I met a girl too; from the “Kentuckee” as she called it. We dated for some time and eventually married three years after graduating college.
We both decided we wanted to earn higher degrees (it seems like you gotta have a friggin’ grad degree these days just to get a job waiting tables…). So she applied to Auburn University in Alabama; she wanted to be a veterinarian (yup, smart and beautiful). And just to keep balance in the house I applied for grad school at the University of Alabama. We were both accepted; and on all things football we are eternally divided.
My grad program was two straight years and her vet program was four. Since she would be in longer we elected to make Auburn home base and rented a singlewide trailer in a local trailer park in Auburn just down the street from the vet school. This made the most sense since she wouldn’t have the distractions of dorm life; also, she would be five minutes from school for those 4 AM calf birthing’s or 12 hour night shifts.
Now, we had no reason to believe that trailer parks were inherently dangerous. There were other students who lived in the park and plenty other honest hard working people as well.
Still, I was a Scout and all that being prepared stuff didn’t wear off. So I installed an alarm system and called a local handyman to help me attach a thin steel plate to the doorframe to reinforce the deadbolt against any would be intruder. I was aware that break-ins did happen, but was told (by the police) that they usually occurred when no one was home so as to get in, grab the electronics and get out.
Nonetheless, there would be plenty of days and nights when I wouldn’t be there. My wife can handle herself. Hell, she can handle a thousand pound animal that is intent on killing her so I don’t worry too much. But man is a different animal and I was determined to make it as difficult as possible to gain entry into our castle (yes, I just referred to our trailer as a castle). I’ll go ahead and answer the question: no, we did not own a gun. I never thought about it to be quite honest with you. I never thought I needed it. I thought, “I’m taking the necessary steps; I’m being prepared”. There’s a difference between being blind and being complacent. I was certainly guilty of the latter.
The trailer was our first “castle” and we were intent on fixing it up to be just that. First on the agenda was to paint the walls. We spent an entire Saturday in the fall of 2007 hard at it and decided to leave the windows open that night for adequate ventilation. All the windows had screens so no concern for skeeters or noseeums. We went to bed.
And that’s when my first wake up call came.
Zero dark thirty. Yup, that’s when it always hits the fan doesn’t it? It did for me. I shot awake from a deep sleep. I hear a pounding on the front door. Heavy hand. The windows are open so I can hear someone on the front porch talking. Deep voice. I don’t recognize it and they are not saying, “This is the police,” so I get concerned real quick.
The pounding gets louder. I jump out of bed and look out the window. I see this guy hammering both fists against the door. I don’t factually know how big he was, but there’s something about that hour of the night that seems to magnify an intruder’s size. He appears drunk as a bicycle. What does that expression mean, you ask? You ever take a bicycle and just push it forward by itself to see how far it’ll go before it topples over? When that front wheel starts to shimmy and the whole bike starts to wobble before it falls…. That’s what this guy looked like.
I had a sneaking suspicion he wasn’t here to ask for a cup o’ sugar. And he was starting to put his big shoulder into the door. I make light of this now, but I will confess I was terrified. I told my wife to dial 911. But I know that this guy is getting in before the cops show up so I’m stuck in a position I vow never to be in again: I’m not prepared. What am I going to do until then? How am I going to defend myself if this guy gets violent? How am I going to defend my wife?
I ran to the utility drawer, grabbed a hammer and made for the front door. I distinctly remember thinking when the door gives and he gets inside I have to hit him in the temple as hard as I can. I didn’t know if this guy was armed, if he was in fact drunk or what his intentions were. He could have just been confused and had the wrong house. Maybe his wife threw him out? Or maybe he was stoned? He said several unintelligibles, expletives, gibberish. I figured I had one opportunity; therefore, aim for the temple. He started putting his entire body into the door. Any moment now, I believed. Any moment, he’s coming in.
But he didn’t. Somehow, that steel plate held the deadbolt in place and the door didn’t give. He just stopped and he left. I went to the back door to make sure he wasn’t coming around to try it. I didn’t see him. Then I ran around and shut all the windows. I went back to the bedroom where my wife was still on the phone with 911. The cops finally came and after the fact we checked my wife’s phone to see how long she had been on with dispatch. Seven minutes.
In the middle of a college town, a small city, it had taken the police seven minutes to show up. That’s not a criticism. I think that’s a decent response time. Cops don’t have a teleporter or a TARDIS to get around; they’ve got a Crown Vic or a Chrysler 300 if they’re lucky. I’m friends with several police officers and I respect the difficult job they do. I asked the cop if I’d have been within my rights to strike at him if he got inside, even if he was at my house by mistake. And that’s when I learned what a “castle doctrine” was and that it exists precisely for those seven minutes.
For seven minutes I was on my own. It was my responsibility and right to defend myself, my wife and my home against someone who was trying to violently force entry. This person wanted to do harm to whoever was on the other side of the door. And that was me and mine. I was stuck with a hammer. I wanted a shotgun. But I’d have been happy with a .22! I’m now a believer in Rule Number 1: HAVE A GUN.
The cops never found the guy. Next morning my wife and I had a discussion. We are either getting a dog or a gun. Guess what? We got both.
We got a Rottweiler from a rescue in Georgia. She was two years old and apparently the runt of her litter. She was all of fifty pounds and as sweet as sugar. I remember wondering if she would be protective enough because she was so good-natured. She came back to Alabama with us and we took to each other immediately. I installed a dog door in the back door that opened into our small back yard that I had chain link fenced.
I asked my grandfather if I could borrow his double barrel until I saved some money to buy something more practical; his was a Sears & Roebuck he bought via catalog in 1954. It felt like it weighed 25 pounds. I kept it for about a year and then purchased a G19. So I returned the blunderbuss. The dog and the gun stayed in the bedroom with us from then on.
Two years later, the summer before my wife graduated, lightning struck for the second time.
Zero dark thirty. Again. This time, it wasn’t a pounding on the door that woke me but rather the rattle of the chain link fence. I sat straight up and grabbed the gun from the drawer safe. I headed for the back door. I had just a moment to see our dog dart outside through the dog door. I stopped at the back door and looked through the window, assessing before I exited. I’ll never forget what I saw. A man, tall and skinny, not more than 17 was falling over himself trying to get back over the fence and out of my yard. My dog was moving through the grass towards him at about mach 5. He made it over and got out. Lucky S.O.B. She stayed at the fence barking, hackles raised and sounding every bit the caged bear. It was textbook.
I let her make sure he was well and truly gone. Then I called the police to report the attempt and gave her a leftover cheeseburger we had grilled earlier. The whole thing.
That was four years ago. We now live in Kentucky, another free state where I am blessed to be able to exercise my Constitutional and God-given rights. We have a beautiful little house out in the country. I have several pistols, long guns and am awaiting approval of my tax stamp(s). I hunt. I target shoot. I exercise my right to defend me and mine. I exercise my right to keep and bear arms. I exercise my right to legal, licensed concealed carry. I will never be unprepared again. My resolve is deep. No one can take it. No government can break it. And no one can tell me that it will never happen to me. It has. Twice. And I’m not going to wait around and see if the third time will be a charm or not.
I’m nearing the middle of my fourth decade. My wife and I both work. A lot. Last September she gave birth to our first child. A boy. The apple of my eye. I will love her forever for it. She has since started a small collection of arms herself. She practices. She too, will be prepared.
We will teach our son to be prepared, to not be complacent and to be safe. These firearms are tools and will exist just like the fishing pole, the rake, the textbook and the dog food bowl. They are stored responsibly, locked in safes and bolted in place as one with young children should store them.
Living in the country has many benefits but the reality is that we are likely now much further from help if the need arises. So, by God, I will be ready if I ever have to be. I do not want a fight. I pray I will not be tested again. But I am a realist now and as such, complacency no longer has any place with me.
Our dog loves my boy and he, even at eight months old, seeks her attention daily. Last year my wife diagnosed her with osteosarcoma, bone cancer, in her front right leg and it had to be amputated. She is still pretty fast. But she slows every day. The cancer has since spread to her ribs and lungs. She gets chemotherapy every other day. My wife tells me she will probably go to the big doghouse in the sky very soon. We will miss her terribly. She did her job, for which I will forever be grateful.
So for my son, my wife, my castle, my dog and myself I will remember the night I got that wake-up call. I will always be prepared.