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Civil War Pistol

January 11, 2021


Unseasonally warm, dry winter.  I walked Gunther to Mrs. Johnson’s yard, where he dutifully dropped a pair of poops, which I caught with a bagged hand held beneath his little butt.  Mrs. Johnson’s lawn stays pristine, I think. 

“Good boy,” I murmured.  Gunther trotted home.

I noticed Mrs. Johnson’s neighbor’s Trump flag has been removed.  My guess is he’s leery of being blamed for the rioting and insurrection at the Capitol last Wednesday.  Or, more likely, the people who live with the Trump supporter are tired of being advertised as fascist.  Or racist. I think about the American Civil War and how it doesn’t seem over yet. My grandfather’s dad was a Civil War veteran.

George G. Struckman lived in Bartlett, Illinois, during the Civil War.  The village president, he organized citizens for a Union military company to fight the confederacy.  Only the Union army officials would not accept his unit, so they all enlisted instead.  George was commissioned a lieutenant by the Governor of Missouri.  He and his men fought the battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, which was more of a rout than a battle.  Shortly after that, his unit was disbanded and they returned to Illinois.  Civilians again.

I was probably nine or ten years old when my mother decided to show me the “civil war pistol.”  It was great-grandfather’s, and I got to play with it.  Tom made a leather holster for it.  It was too heavy to run around with, and the mainspring that operated the hammer and cylinder was broken.  I took it to school for show and tell.  A fifth grade classmate, Virginia Stewart, took it from my desk and made me chase her around the playground to get it back.  That romance never got far.

That Spring, I enjoyed picking lilacs and leaping ten feet from our back porch roof to the lawn, soon breaking a bone in my foot.  I left a huge bouquet of lilacs on the lawn.

I know.  I think I enjoyed the sensation of sailing through the air. I knew I was hurt, and I couldn’t walk.

I crawled up the cool cement steps from the garage into the house, whimpering and crying in pain.  Mother called Dr. Lowe.

I spent three or four days in the hospital for the swelling to subside before Dr. Lowe put a cast on my leg from toe to knee.  I was out of school the last two weeks of the school year.  Mother brought home my schoolwork and the pistol.  She said Mrs. Jay was disgusted because my desk was a “rat’s nest.” In those days having a real gun (albeit an antique) at school was unremarkable.

I was in agony. Not from pain, but I longed to play outdoors in the warm weather.

Our neighborhood droned with the sound of a lawn mower and I heard shouts of children playing games each evening while I did multiplication and division problems.  I almost always got the wrong answers, and I hated the homework.  My bedroom window was open and the gentle breezes of June with the sweet smell of lilac bushes wafted in. At eight o’clock the sun shone through my window as it set. My brother’s friends trooped through my room to his, remarking how early I had to go to bed.

The Civil War pistol was easy to take apart and put together with a sort of sliding mechanism you could pull out most of the way.  The barrel and charging lever came off, then the cylinder, then the grip and hammer.  Each part had a serial number stamped.  I could take apart the grip and hammer with a screwdriver.  Easy.  Then simple to put back together.  I recall making notches in the wooden grip, and using the pistol to hammer nails when I was too lazy to go to the workbench in the basement.  Luckily the pistol was heavy duty. I chipped a piece of wood from the handle.

In high school I kept the pistol displayed in my room, along with a bunch of magic tricks and handcuffs and other stuff a teenage boy finds compelling.

When our mother died we divided the family heirlooms.  Tom got the pistol.  He took it to a pawnshop and got, like, $50, because he was out of money. He didn’t get the pistol back.

I have a photo I took when I was in high school.

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One Comment
  1. Blaine Ackley permalink

    A nice story, Dan. Strangely enough, I also fractured my foot jumping off the bulkhead to the beach. It was a hairline fracture and because of it, my right foot is a half-size shorter.
    I am sorry about the pistol but it makes for a good story.

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