When I see phrases like “God’s handy work” I think of Mrs. Helen (William “Pug”) Williams, who writes a social column for my hometown’s weekly newspaper. Mrs. Williams lives in one of the village suburbs (yes, a village can have suburbs) and reports at length upon the comings and goings near her rural crossroads. She is not afraid to note who was excluded from some area luncheon and why, or to advise that Mrs. Robert “Curly” Roberts neglected to cut the crusts from the green-olive-and-cream-cheese tea sandwiches she provided whereas Mrs. Robert “Buster Brown” Roberts trimmed her watercress ones into festive shapes.
Welsh slate workers came in droves to settle the Champlain valley where I grew up, all sharing first names and last names indiscriminately. Nicknames are crucial in maintaining personal identity when three unrelated men named Edward Edwards live in close proximity. No-one ever confuses “Stump” Edwards (the war vet) with “Vet” Edwards (the veterinarian) or “Carstairs” Edwards (the veteran drinker).
But I digress. And I take poetic license: Watercress was not available in my hometown in the 1960s where, on a good day, you might find a nice head of iceberg lettuce. When I was a child, there were two small grocery stores in town. Both had sloping creaky wood floors and dusty haphazard shelving and vegetable aisles that stank more than the milk coolers did. The A&P, though, ground its own coffee – a delicious decadent smell if you were lucky enough to be there while the machine was running. It smelled like adulthood to me. It offered heady hints of wonderful things in store, if only I were patient.
I was not patient. I wanted watercress, which I’d read about in Victorian novels. I didn’t want iceberg wedges. I wanted coffee that tasted like it smelled, not instant Taster’s Choice. I wanted champagne, and didn’t believe my mother when she claimed that her first sip of it was one of the biggest disappointments of her life (as was my first bite of watercress).
My mother cuts Mrs. Williams’ crusty columns out of the paper and faithfully sends them to me. Our all-time favorite one begins, “In this doggie dog world,” wherein Helen recounts some wanton cruelty that befell one of her own. We latched onto that wonderful phrase and sometimes catch ourselves using it in public. It’s often too much trouble to explain, so we let people judge us as we judged Mrs. Williams. It’s only fair.
This morning, reading over the world’s wanton cruelties du jour, I found a cheerful consoling comment about the power of “God’s handy work” to save us.
It’s man’s handiwork that makes this a dog-eat-dog world — or, sometimes, a child-shoot-child world. In rural southern Kentucky last week, a 5-year-old boy shot his 2-year-old sister in the chest with a rifle he received as a gift last year. She died because the boy’s gun was not a toy. It was a real .22-caliber rifle, loaded with live ammo and left leaning in a corner of the living room.
While I find math rather intimidating, I am confident about handling this subtraction. That boy was four years old when given a real firearm to play with.
Four-year-old boys can’t possibly hold a gun correctly. They can’t even hold their pencils or their penises correctly. They can’t write their names without screwing up their faces and struggling mightily to aim their crayon. They can’t hit the toilet bowl without screwing up their faces and struggling mightily to aim their pee. Even then, they fail.
Fortunately for four-year-old boys, Keystone Sporting Arms fills that market niche, making real guns scaled to fit a child’s developing body. Pink ones for little girls, and blue ones for little boys. Said Gary White, county coroner in the Kentucky case, “It’s a Crickett, a little rifle for a kid . . . the little boy’s used to shooting the little gun.”
“Down in Kentucky where we’re from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation. You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything,” said he.
What is “everything,” I wonder? Self-defense when protecting yourself from your two-year-old sister? Does the Make My Day law now extend to sibling squabbles over control of the TV remote?
Substitute “up” for “down” and “New England” for “Kentucky” and you’re describing the area where I grew up. Mrs. Helen Williams might have written that coroner’s words. A boy’s first gun is a masculine rite of passage. He is taught gun care and hunter safety by some responsible, esteemed and admired role model – his father, his grandfather, his family friend. It’s an important part of the culture.
Here’s the thing, though: Where I’m from, rites of passage into adulthood don’t take place before the first day of kindergarten.
Something vital is missing here. I daresay it’s intelligence – and we’re not talking effete highbrow stuff. We don’t need elaborate gun control laws. All we need is basic IQ testing. Morons should not be armed. They are dangerous enough without weapons.
“Accidents happen with guns. They thought the gun was actually unloaded, and it wasn’t,” the coroner said. A bright-eyed innocent two-year-old girl is dead, and he shrugs it off as, you know, one of those things.
The doggie dogs ought to be howling in rage over this one. It wasn’t a good day in Kentucky for God’s handy work.