My mother learned to shoot rifles in her youth, in Girl Scouts; according to family lore, my grandma was distressed at Mom's tomboyish qualities and was very pleased when she announced that she "loved the smell of powder" — only to discover that what pleased her daughter was not a cosmetic, but the smell of gunpowder. In her twenties, she was a nationally ranked markswoman (an amazing woman, she was also a licensed pilot and a historically significant educator, founding the nation's first continuing education program for women at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s).
My father was apparently also a good marksman, although I am uncertain about where he learned to shoot; as the child of Russian Jewish immigrants in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I don't think he had much of a chance for target practice.
I remember BB guns and riflery classes at summer camp, and our house had a couple of rifles and a shotgun parked in a closet. There was a revolver holstered in my father's bureau drawer. Occasionally my brother and I would look at it, but we never took it out. There were far more interesting things in our house, including an assortment of African spears, a batch of Khyber knives, a collection of Eskimo carvings in walrus ivory from when my parents lived in Alaska in the 1950s, as well as a whale oosik, which my brother and I used as a baseball bat for indoor whiffleball. Even in the liberal academic enclave where we grew up, our household was weirder by several quanta of eccentricity.
None of us ever shot anything at home until the day my father decided to give us some target practice in our basement. He took out his handgun and gave us a crash course in how to operate it.
To this day I am baffled as to why a man as intelligent as my father thought it would be a good idea to fire a handgun in our basement. The room was large, and he set up a target on a piece of wood about forty-five feet away from the corner where we stood.
He showed us how to hold the gun, which was extraordinarily heavy. We practiced aiming, trying to hold the piece steady while keeping the target in our sights. After a few dry runs without bullets, he loaded the pistol.
I fired, and the recoil jerked the gun so much I almost dropped it.
Then I heard a steadily decelerating series of plunks.
And...Plunk...........something tapped me on the throat, right where, if I ever needed a tracheotomy, I'd get one. It was a light tap, about as hard as a two-finger handclap.
And then, plunk....something fell on the floor. I bent down to see what it was.
It was the bullet, pounded out of shape by multiple ricochets around the masonry walls of our basement.
By the time it reached my neck, it had lost almost all its kinetic energy; it didn't even bruise my skin.
And that was the last time I've ever fired a gun. If I've managed to shoot myself in the throat and live, I've probably used up all the firearms-related luck I've got in this life.
And that's my gun story.