Christmas, a Rifle, and a Life Lesson

By Dan Schmitt | December 22, 2013 |     No season is quite like Christmas for invoking memories.  And no Christmas season is more inde...

By Dan Schmitt | December 22, 2013 |
No season is quite like Christmas for invoking memories.  And no Christmas season is more indelibly locked into my memory than the one that occurred over fifty years ago.

I grew up the third of seven kids in the small central Wisconsin town of Schofield.  My parents, products of the Great Depression and World War II, disciplined differently.  Six of the seven Schmitt kids were boys, and we were all boys, if you know what I mean!

There was never a dearth of misdeeds, ill-behavior or outright stupidity on the part of us Schmitt boys.  Whether it involved getting caught stealing one of Mrs. Fox’s home grown watermelons or coming home with a bloody nose caused by a fist fight with a neighbor lad, Mom’s disciplinary modus operandi was to shame and pain us into righteousness by first sobbing and uttering loudly “Where did we go wrong?”  We boys always assumed that by “we” Mom meant her and Dad, not us, but that was of little consolation because her next move was to bring out the PADDLE.

Dad, on the other hand, didn’t really have a method of discipline; it was more a philosophy of life.  I never heard my dad swear or saw him get angry.  I guess after living through the Great Depression, landing on Omaha Beach D-Day plus four, and fighting the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, raising six boys was a piece of cake. So, whatever the wrong-doing, Mother would get hysterical while Dad would calmly say, “Well, it happened before; I’m sure it’ll happen again.” That was it.  None of us Schmitt boys took Dad’s “I’m sure it’ll happen again” as license to repeat the transgression.  Dad had a way with words.

Except for that one Christmas morning incident.  I was ten, and Santa had brought me a Daisy pellet rifle, the best present ever!  The ecstasy of graduating from the BB  to a Pellet rifle couldn’t be contained, and immediately after breakfast, my older brother Rick and I headed out into the cold, snowy weather for a couple hours of “shooting” in the woods just behind the old Hoffmeister’s Grocery Store.

When I think back upon the incident now, I wonder if it were the blizzard conditions that caused things to go so terribly wrong.  You see, brother Rick, even at the age of thirteen, was considered the best young marksman in the neighborhood.  Well, as we approached the grocery store, we decided to shoot at the gas pump directly in front of the huge storefront window. Rick shot first and last. To this day, he claims we were 50 yards away from the pump.  I believe it was no more than 20 feet.  Whatever the distance, he took aim, pulled the trigger, missed the pump and the pellet went smack dab through the store window!

Knowing we’d be in big trouble if caught, we did what any boy in that situation would have done - turned and streaked for home, two blocks away.  Unfortunately for us, Mrs. Rausch was looking out her front window, saw everything and promptly called our parents. 

Hustling up the hill to our house, the best young marksman in the neighborhood decided we should use the family car’s back license plate for target practice.  Sounded great to me!  (*footnote) Rick aimed, pulled the trigger, and, “PLING”, we heard the sound of the pellet hit its target.  Then, it was my turn.  I cocked the rifle, steadied my body, fixed the sights on the license plate and pulled the trigger.  The sound we were expecting did not come.  Rather it was more like a “THUD”, and we watched in horror as the back car window honeycombed and shattered into hundred of tiny pieces.  Missed again! 

Entering the kitchen back door, we immediately realized we were in deep doodoo!  Mom was crying uncontrollably but still managed to get out in sporadic bursts “Where . . . did . . . we . . . go . . . wrong?”

Dad chimed in with “Well, it happened before; I’m sure it’ll happen again.” But then he added, “You boys will have to pay for the store window.” 

Rick and I looked at each other and our eyes said it all, “Phew, they don’t know about the car window!”

That changed the next morning. Rick and I slept in the same bedroom. Truth be told, we didn’t get much sleep that night.  We knew what was coming!  We heard the back door slam shut, a sign that Dad was heading off to work.  A few minutes later (it seemed like hours), we again heard the door slam.  Dad came into our bedroom, turned the light on and said,“ Now you boys got a store window and a car window to pay for.”  And then, uncharacteristically, he added, “Oh, and the pellet gun is mine until both windows are paid for.”  Even stupid boys know when not to deny!

Brother Rick had a paper route and was making decent money for a kid his age, about $10 per week.  He paid off his share of the windows in no time.  I, on the other hand, shoveled lots of neighborhood driveways that winter.  The going rate back then was about 50 cents per job, so it wasn’t until mid spring that I got my pellet rifle back.
I swear on a holy manger no future Christmas brought one-tenth the discomfort to my parents as did the Christmas of my 10th year. I had that gun until I left home at the age of eighteen, and I will also swear that it was never again used to shoot windows.

*  If at this juncture, dear Reader, you find yourself shaking your head and uttering, What in the hell were those boys thinking!” please refer back to the opening sentence of paragraph three. Christmas, a Rifle, and a Life Lesson

Post a Comment Default Comments

Follow Us



Elk Grove News Minute

All previous Elk Grove News Minutes, interviews, and Dan Schmitt's Ya' Gotta be Schmittin' Me podcasts are now available on iTunes

Elk Grove News Podcast