The Measuring Stick

I read an editorial the other day, grabbed by the heading, which asked: "At what point does a child become an adult?"

I had a feeling that most folks know the answer to that, but it's buried deep, and they'd have to sift doggedly through a lot of childhood recollections to get to it.

But in my own case I could clearly frog-leap all those years and state unequivocally that the day I began to think like an adult was the day I got a .22 rifle and a box of cartridges.

In the days of my boyhood a gun was practical, and every rural home had one for every purpose: hunting, predators and protection. Kids had to learn about guns fast.

My father was a careful, practical person who studied the law and always did things by his own clock. He had three children, all different, and although I'm sure he thought I had the attention span of a guppy, he was hopeful that I could learn.

When I was 8 years old he gave me a BB gun for Christmas. He said only, "Mitch, you're responsible for what you shoot." That was all, but it was more effective than a thousand-word lecture, because it left to my imagination what responsibility was. To this day I have to think before I pull a trigger of any kind, including the one that controls my tongue.

My first .22 wasn't new, but neither was my first bike or my first sled. Those were depression times, and store-bought things were rare. It was a time of hand-me-downs and barter, with so little cash changing hands, as my uncle Frank remembered it, that "Nickels got as thin as paper and you had to stack up six quarters to make a dollar."

At the age of 10 I didn't have to ask my dad's permission for a real rifle, but I knew better than to ask for the money, because there wasn't any. As it turned out, I didn't have to buy my .22. I got it through a chain of typical boy-barter deals that would have impressed my math teacher.

I swapped upwardly, starting at home. A neighbor showed me how to make rabbit traps and then let me set them in his little orchard, where I promptly caught three rabbits in one night. I sold the rabbits to another German neighbor fond of hasenpfeffer and, in the process, learned how to