This is Not Where I Thought I Was Going

Of Good Men and Gunsmoke

They laid a good man to rest in Bates County, Missouri on Wednesday. After a 30 year career as a paramedic and part time deputy, my former coworker  succumbed to cancer. He was only 58.

Like all the good men I know – and there are many of them – he didn’t call attention to himself. He just got up every day and did his job in a competent fashion. Good men are dependable men.

He was kind to me when I revealed that my husband had moved out one morning as I was restocking the Emergency Room supply cart. I hadn’t told anyone at work yet, but I blurted it out when he asked how my day was going.

I’m sure he said something nice, but then he followed up with something a little bit snarky and very, very funny. I appreciated that because it was our normal interaction. Too much sympathy in those early days undid me.

Getting all our joint accounts dissolved was ridiculously hard. The ladies at the bank, the cable company, and the phone company implied that no one in Bates County had ever been divorced before. Some wanted details of  our little local scandal in order to spread more rumors! By the time I’d worked my way through our stack of bills to the gas company I was mad. But the woman there was so sweet and sympathetic that I went home and just bawled afterward. 

My husband and I had been members of a nearby trap and skeet club for a few years. Skeet is a sport played with shotguns. Shooters work around a half-circle field between the high house on the left and the low house on the right. Targets, or clay pigeons, are called for and shot as they are launched out the high and low windows from each side of the field. At stations 1 and 2, and 6 and 7, one shoots the single targets and then calls for doubles – targets thrown from both houses simultaneously.  A round of skeet is 25 targets with 5 shooters taking turns at each of 8 stations. (See diagram of skeet range in the first link at the bottom of the post.)

I was actually pretty good at it, often shooting a score of 20 or 22. I especially liked to shoot the doubles. It forced me to shoot instinctively instead of overthinking. We shot 2 or 3 rounds on Tuesday nights, and I was almost always the only woman there. The good men there seemed not to mind that I was invading their sport. I loved to shoot, and they could see that. Gunsmoke became my favorite scent.

This photo is a royalty free image. I confess I didn’t have a good one to put here.

One night I made the mistake of besting my husband by 1 target. I was pleased, of course, but I do not think I gloated over it. Still, he didn’t take it well. On the ride home he began to coach me.

“You’re shooting all wrong”, he said.

“I’m breaking the targets”, I argued.

“But you’re not doing it right. You need to wait longer before you shoot so you hit them in the right place.” 

I started to doubt my abilities and try to follow his directions. My scores went down to 18 and stayed there. I never got close to beating him on the skeet range again.

Oddly, the day he left we had opened up the range for a rare Saturday shoot. It was on the drive home that he revealed that he’d already spoken to a lawyer and was moving in with his sister that very day. I’ve often thought that he did it that way to to ruin shooting for me forever.

What A Gun Club Taught Me About Good Men

I had to give up a lot of things, including the beautiful house we had built only 3 years earlier. We were lucky to sell it quickly, but for less than we owed on the mortgage.

For a while I feared I’d have to give up skeet, too. I wondered if I’d be welcome if I showed up alone. The big issue was that the gun club was 11 miles from home, up the main north-south highway through Bates County. And I barely drove at all… I’ll explore that issue more thoroughly in another post. It will become a recurring theme.

One day my friend, the paramedic, found me gazing at the giant county map taped to the ER office wall. I was looking for a route to the gun club via the gravel back-roads. That was the first time he helped me figure out how to get where I was determined to go, even if I didn’t yet possess the skills to get me there. Good men help. They don’t hinder a woman’s ambition.

Until I left Missouri in the fall of 2006 I continued to shoot 1 or 2 rounds of skeet on Tuesday nights. Those good men welcomed me back, encouraged me to forget the bad coaching and to trust my instincts again.

I was always safe there, and soon other women and some kids started  shooting trap and skeet, too. Once a young boy of 12 or 13 shyly invited me to admire his grandpa’s prized Benelli shotgun. It was a fine gun.

My scores went back up, and no one got angry if  I occasionally scored better than them. The one time I shot a perfect round of 25 targets they all shot my hat – an odd tradition, but one that I am proud of earning the right to participate in. I still have that hat.

When the firing pin on my shotgun broke mid round, someone loaned me a gun and steered me to a gunsmith for the repair. Good men do that sort of thing.

Getting outside for some healthy exercise was good for me. Driving myself to the gun club every week built up confidence to keep trying scary things. Baby steps, yes, but consistent ones.

Aim at a high mark and you’ll hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second time. Maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you’ll hit the bull’s-eye of success.

Annie Oakley, American sharpshooter (1860-1926)

I treasure the opportunity to learn how to navigate the world as a single woman by spending Tuesday evenings with a group of good men who treated me just like they had when I’d been married.

It was interesting to watch how the men related to one another because the core group had been friends for many years. When one of the older men was in the hospital for the final time his best friend  would end the evening by firing off a single shell which he’d quickly stick in a shirt pocket. In a peculiarly masculine form of aromatherapy, he would deliver the empty hull to the hospital room so that the dying man could inhale the scent of gunsmoke.

Everyday I see or hear stories about bad men, ineffective men, juvenile men, dangerous men, and men suffering from what is popularly called “toxic masculinity”. Good men don’t get much press. And that’s too bad, because in my experience there are still a lot of them out there. You just have to look in the right place. There aren’t many of them in politics or the entertainment industry.

They are the farmers, teachers, and mechanics, the cops, firefighters, and paramedics, the tech guy who does things nobody understands, the guy who repairs downed power lines after a storm, the one who carries your groceries to the car…good men are everywhere.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you found a bunch of them at your local gun club.


8 Comments

  1. Susan

    As always, you put it perfectly. May your friend rest in peace, in a cloud of gunsmoke.

    Reply
    1. Linda Bittle (Post author)

      Thank you!

      Reply
  2. Sharon gagin

    This is fantastic!!!!! Loved it!!! Sharon gagin

    Reply
    1. Linda Bittle (Post author)

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it.

      Reply
  3. Margaret E Smith

    Wonderful tribute to Kelly, he was a good man. Hmmm, your spouse really was a “rat bastard”. Not that I ever doubted you, lol. Hugs.

    Reply
    1. Linda Bittle (Post author)

      He was way to young. Bates County lost a valuable member of the community.

      Reply
  4. Linda Barksdale

    Wonderful and powerful; heart-warming and hopeful. Thank you got my feel-good of the day!

    Reply
    1. Linda Bittle (Post author)

      That comment made my day! Thanks so much.

      Reply

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