Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Might Have Been

Sisters. Diann, Little Kathy, and me. circa 1960s.

My Grandma Aldrich had arthritis since she was in her 30's, and lived with chronic pain in her feet, knees,and hands all her life. Her discomfort caused her to walk with a slight limp.  Through all the years I knew her, I never once heard her complain. 

One weekend my parents went out of town and Grandma came to take care of us. I was only 13 and not quite of the age to take on such responsibility, so Grandma was drafted.

I have two sisters, and back then I shared a bedroom with Dutchy (Diann). Little Kathy, the baby of the family and five years my junior, had her own room. Across the hall was my parents room, with a long dresser from which I used to "borrow" quarters, dimes, and nickels emptied from pockets at days end.

It was on that dresser one day that I found a letter addressed to my Dad. See, Dad used to be a cop when I was very young. Heck, HE was very young, only 21 years old. One night after a scary high speed chase he ended up in a shoot-out with the two suspects. He wounded one, and both were arrested and sent away to prison. This letter was from the one he shot, and held promises of retaliation once he was released from prison, promises that were severe and involved my whole family. I put the letter down.

After an uneventful day we had our supper, watched some television, and went to bed. I slept in my parents' bed, Grandma in mine.
At some point during the night a sound woke me. I laid there silent and still, listening to every sound, every breath.  Someone was in the house. I thought of the letter. I thought of my Grandma and my sisters innocently sleeping in their beds, unaware of the intruder lurking around our house.

I slowly got up and went to my parents' closet. Hanging in a holster was my Dad's 38 Special. Silently I lifted the gun from its leather holster and careful, quietly, made my way to the doorway. I peered into the darkness, checking to see if my Grandma and sisters were in their beds. They were. I knew what I had to do.

The intruder started making his way slowly down the hallway toward our bedrooms. I raised the gun and pointed it directly at the chest of the shadow walking down the hall. As I was about to pull the trigger, I noticed the limp.

I have remembered this story for 40 years but it was only today that I asked my Dad the two questions I have always wanted to know but was afraid to ask.

Question: Was there a safety on the gun?

Answer: No.

Question: Was the gun loaded?

Answer: Yes.

Me the age of this event.
I never told my family this story until today. And now, knowing what might have happened had one more second passed, I am chilled. One brief second was the difference between life as I have known it and a terrible family tragedy that surely would have destroyed us all.


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