Guns & Men:
The Memsaab Speaks

METAL VS. METTLE
51

These boys think they’re so sly, but I read them like books; kindergarten books; three words to a page, with big bright pictures in primary colors. I’m talking about our Uncle John and Uncle G (the latter, some of you old-time Handgunner readers will remember as Commander Gilmore). Every time that Connor-man is gone too long, especially if we’re not that sure where he is or what he’s doing, they gravitate to me like 10-year olds who smell cookies baking. They may be twice my age, but when they come tip-toeing around like bashful buffalo, they’re just boys.

Oh, I know their game. They arrive simultaneously from different states and then pretend it’s a coincidence, all frozen smiles and warm but stiff greetings, and they won’t mention Connor at all for at least 24 hours. Then the vigil begins. I can’t complain; I enjoy their company, and every hinge in the place gets oiled and a mountain of firewood split while they putter around pointedly not talking about Connor. I only get concerned if they wash and wax my truck. That means they know or suspect something I don’t, and it could mean trouble. This time they put on two coats of Carnauba wax.

They think I’m worried about Connor — and I am; but in a way that’s been refined over the years. I call it the “Truck Tire Analogy.” Imagine a big truck tire, like the kind on 18-wheel semis. Now visualize one, untied and unsecured, bouncing off the rear trailer of a semi while it’s rolling down the highway. It could be due to a pothole in the road, a collision, or even an IED. The speeding truck is life; at least, the way Connor lives it. Connor? Well, he’s that big, resilient truck tire.

The truck might keep rolling unfazed, or it might be destroyed, but that big tire takes its own course. Oh, it might be destroyed too, for sure. But most likely it will hit the road rolling, and come to rest in a ditch or out in a field, maybe smacked up against a tree or just losing speed and falling over in a pile of litter; a little dirty and banged up, but fine and fit for duty. It could be hit, but whatever hits it is probably going to suffer more damage than that tire will. It may be chewed up, gouged and scarred, but if any single thing survives, it will be that truck tire. That’s my man. Yep; I’m married to a loose truck tire.

The Touchstone .45

That first evening, after feeding the boys about half a grilled steer, I cleared the table, got out a counter mat and cleaning gear, and began taking down a certain .45 pistol; a hard-used veteran marked “UNITED STATES PROPERTY M1911 A1 US ARMY” on the right side of its worn-shiny frame. It was the first gun Connor ever gave me, and though it had already seen God-only-knows what kind of use, it meant almost as much to me as the little gold band that followed soon after. Oily rag in hand, I began a routine I’ve done countless times, and never really thought about why until Uncle John’s dammed-up reservoir of nervous tension cracked wide open and he spilled:

“Dangle-blaggit, Helena!” he exploded (something like that, anyway) “You only pull out that old clunker when you’re worried about him, and then you polish it like Aladdin’s lamp, girl! What the hell’s up with that?” He was embarrassed and subdued the instant those words were fired, but the smoke of that volley hung in the air over my head. I really hadn’t realized I did that — but I do. In a split second I knew why, and staring into nothing at all, it came to me, how very like a gun is a man.

It’s true, and it starts with the metal of a gun and the mettle of a man. No matter how many features it has, or how ingenious the design, if it’s not made of the right stuff all the way to the core, and it lacks the temper to keep its strength through thousands of rounds, it will surely come apart when you need it most. And “hard on the surface” may be a good thing, but if it’s hardened and unyielding all the way through, the more prone it is to crack and fracture all the way through. Better that a gun — and a man — should be just hard enough to shrug off the occasional ding and dent, but be tough where it counts, and have just enough flex to deal with heat and cold, but always retain its essential shape and character.

In college I dated a brilliant guy; a genuine genius in his field; a man with an astronomical IQ and a blazing-bright future. He charmed me with his intelligence and articulation, his refined manners and social graces. Besides that, he could dance and he knew how to dress! Oh, he was a custom-crafted “race gun”! Connor on the other hand, well, let’s just cut to the chase and say he couldn’t dance if you shot at his feet, and his idea of “dressy casual” is clean bush shorts and stomping the mud off his boots. He’s definitely a “service issue” gun.

I dropped the race gun and picked up the service .45 for a simple reason: The genius was a moral coward. Picking his “positions” from whichever view or attitude was popular at the moment, and plucking his “ethics” from whatever stood to benefit him, he simply lacked the mettle.

Saucer-Sized Groups

A handgun capable of shooting the tightest one-hole group imaginable just “ain’t worth shucks” as my gramma would say, if it’s not consistent. I’ll take this old “Touchstone .45,” with its day-in year-out saucersized groups over an erratic dinger every time. A man and a gun have to be above all else trustworthy and reliable to their mate or master. What they could do is nothing if you can’t count on them all the time in every situation. And a man with a wild hair, an uneven temperament, is kind of like a 1911 that, one out of a hundred times when you flick off the safety, the hammer drops — and you never know when it might happen.

“Don’t tell me what’s right or what’s fair or what we wish it were; just tell me what IS and I’ll handle it.”

We’ve all known pistols — and ladies, we’ve all known men — who were smooth, steady shooters as long as they were sparkling clean, lightly lubed, and you never fed them anything but their favorite fodder, right? That’s like a man who handles the humdrum of daily life and muddling in the mainstream well, but he chokes and stovepipes when conditions get gritty and he has to fire for effect with what he’s got — not what he wishes he had. One of my favorite “Connor-isms” is, “Don’t tell me what’s right or what’s fair or what we wish it were; just tell me what IS and I’ll handle it.”

I want a man and a gun that can feed and fire any ammo at hand, no matter how grungy and hard to swallow, and do it in a swirling storm of mud, blood and BS.

Target sights are nice, and they can put you right into the X-ring. But if they tend to come loose and “wander,” then ladies, I’ll ask you again — you’ve known men like those roving sights, haven’t you? Fancy sights don’t mean beans if they won’t stay aligned, whether they’re in the gunsafe or getting knocked around, out of your sight on another continent. I trust my old blunt, squared off, fixed iron sights to stay on target, and if I couldn’t, I wouldn’t wear this ring.

Guns and men need regular service and maintenance too, and this is where many mates and masters get it wrong. You can’t leave either one lacking lube or love for so long they run dry and gall, and then “fix them” by dunking them in the finest oil. And if you’ve misused or ignored that man or that gun you can’t make it up to them by slapping a set of expensive grips on. Whether they’re seeing hard service or just standing by, it’s regular attention — handling, inspection, a little loving tightening and tuning — that keeps them running right.

By the time the boys broke through my lost-in-space reverie, I knew exactly why that pistol is and will always be my “Touchstone .45”: That gun is Connor with walnut grips.

One Line Says It All

Often, friends and family will ask me — laughingly and joking, I presume — how I could possibly love a man like Connor. Maybe from now on I’ll just pull out this old Touchstone .45, show it to them and see if they get it. But something else just occurred to me, and I’ll share it with you. Connor is fond of using what he calls “CATscan slices” to illustrate a point. I’m thinking of one particular sentence, one phrase that I’ve heard him use on three occasions, and it’s my CAT-scan slice of Connor.

The first time was at Camp Pendleton, and he was training a really mixed bag of officers and NCOs from several foreign countries at “Combat Town,” running them through house-to-house and room-to-room drills. You wouldn’t believe the difference in ages, shapes, skin colors and “grooming standards” in that bunch, not to mention many were dressed as “aggressors” or insurgents, and others were in the worst and dirtiest of the uniforms and field gear of their forces. I came by to bring him a big sandwich and a thermos of coffee, about two minutes before a small fleet of official cars pulled up.

It was some kind of visiting general — maybe an Inspector General — and taking just one look at that group, he was inflamed. One looked like Pancho Villa on a train-robbery raid, and — well, use your imagination. The general almost blew a gasket, and loudly demanded to know “Who on God’s green earth is in command of this … this … debacle?”

The second time was at a highway diner outside of Amarillo, Texas. We were moving cross-country — again! — and stopped for breakfast. The kids were eight and 10 then, and they’d been cooped up in the car too long. They found the juke box, and started putting on their own “show.” They were just being kids, and they were no louder than the music, but this irritated one of several cowboy-types at the counter. It takes a BIG man to cast a shadow over Connor, and this guy looked like somebody had wrapped denim around an arched double church door. Red in the face and working his fists, he got up and barked, “Who do these brats belong to?”

Third Time’s A Charm

The third time Connor was kind of “along for the ride” while I was teaching a seminar. He says I “teach mice to roar” — it’s more like bringing out the strength and assertiveness people have inside, and they just need counseling in how to let it out appropriately. Sometimes, when teaching this, you have to get “demonstrative,” and “walk the walk.” I was doing this, demonstrating firm assertiveness when the Big Cheese walked in; the man who owned every stick, stone, out-house and in-box of that company, and a renowned egomaniac.

I think he was PO’ed because I didn’t stop the show and genuflect when he slid into the back of the room, where he happened to wind up bumping elbows with Connor. Loud enough for several people in the back rows to hear, he growled, “I see she’s wearing a wedding ring. I wonder what poor bastard has to put up with that mouthy broad?”

On all three occasions, Connor did and said exactly the same thing. He strode up to that general, that cow-pie, that up-jumped power-puffin, closed to nose-to-nose range, cocked an eyebrow, and simply intoned, “I have that honor, sir.” That Connor — he’s my favorite pistol.

Memsaab OUT.