Our cousin Bruce in Memphis is an extraordinary man--something we've always known.
We were shocked and delighted that time in the '70s when he showed up at our door with no warning just before Christmas, having hitched rides from Tennessee to upstate New York during a blizzard.
When he had a kidney removed, our mom sent him this plant:
That was 40 years ago, and he's kept it alive and well since then. Our mom was as special to him as his mom is to us, but I was amazed at his dedication and got a little misty eyed.
Then he brought out some treasures that left all three of us choked-up:
The shotgun on the left is a Browning Auto-5 12 gauge semi-auto made in 1950. On the right is a commercial German Mauser 98K that was re-barrelled for the .22-250 varmint cartridge in the early 1960s.
These were my father's guns.
Dad had left them with our uncle Jim so they would be there whenever he might find himself near that part of Tennessee and have a day to spare for hunting. One of the perks of being a pilot in the USAF back then is a certain amount of flight time under your own control if you knew how to massage the paperwork.
When uncle Jim died Bruce took it upon himself to safeguard these pieces of our heritage and return them to us.
As we took the shotgun apart a few days ago there was another misty-eyed moment when we found our father's initials engraved upon a hidden piece of steel by his own hand.
I'm not taking apart the rifle any time soon, but when I do it will be with an eye peeled for fingerprints because I'm pretty sure the last person to handle what's hidden inside the walnut stock was dear old dad.
Three or 4 years after he went missing in action in 1966, my mom got rid of his guns. The collection of firearms, ammo, and reloading gear was so heavy it collapsed the legs on the pool table in our garage.
Only one, a military surplus Springfield M1903A3 that he was in the process of turning into a Texas-style deer rifle survived, stashed deep inside a trunk in the basement--but I pretty much finished that project back in the 1990s. It was something, but the loss the rest of the collection was one of those things that has always chewed on my guts every time I thought about it.
Having these fine pieces suddenly show up again is beyond my wildest dreams--it's hard to find the words to express how much it means to me.
Back in 2008 I shot this photo called "The Duck Hunter" while testing some then-new flash gear, and really liked it:
The bird book was the oldest thing in the picture, from 1936 I think, but it had a satisfyingly vintage feel overall.
A few days ago I re-shot it with my father's shotgun, and even managed to find the same page: