My First Shotgun

Some Memories Last Forever…

“Can I talk to you for a minute?” asked my friend Maris Parker several weeks back when I passed her in a local store. “You know I don’t hunt but I think you should run the Christmas story about your first shotgun every year” she said. To be honest, I thanked her then moved on not giving it much thought.

As the days passed several more mentioned the same. When Kokomo’s Ron and Betty Rinehart brought it up just a few days ago, I gave it some thought. So in honor of their requests here is the story about an unforgettable Christmas that took place nearly five decades back and a gift cherished forever.

In 1968 at the tender age of 11, I was young and impressionable. Like any kid, I just couldn’t wait to wake up on Christmas day. The exact details of that very special morning are emblazoned in my memory forever, which says a lot for someone who at times can’t remember the previous week’s events.

Sleep came hard that Christmas Eve night, but my 11 year old body finally gave in and sent me into a wonderful world of dreams. There was one present I wanted more than anything on earth. I wanted it so bad I just couldn’t stand it. It came to the point where I begged my parents for an entire year for a shotgun of my very own. It would be so much fun I thought, hunting and target shooting anytime I wanted. I considered it a passage into manhood.

I’ll never forget waking up with a huge grin on my face. There was no containing my excitement. I ran into the living room and gave the presents under the Christmas tree a good glance before sprinting into my parents bedroom shaking them from sleep. They both appeared really tired and all I could figure was they spent the night sitting up discussing the important responsibilities of me owning my first gun.

I ran back into the living room with my brothers and sisters in tow. We begged to tear into the brightly colored packages. As dad handed out presents one-by-one I ripped through the decorative paper like a hurricane, throwing things to the side until I could hold the one present I had dreamed of. I tore through gifts typically geared for boys my age and the customary package of new underwear and white tube socks. As the presents dwindled the sickening realization set in there was no gun. I was heartbroken.

I remember doing everything I could to keep my cool, about as much as an 11 year-old boy could handle anyway. Was it Santa took it to the wrong house? Did someone break into our house and steal it? Maybe he really did see all of the bad things I had done. Regardless, I had not received the one present I wanted most.

Depression doesn‘t come close in describing my feelings at that time, but I also didn’t feel right asking mom or dad about it because I knew they both worked really hard providing for all of us. Still I was heartbroken

As my brothers and sisters sat admiring their new gifts I tried to smile but know a look of sadness etched its way across my then young face. After a few moments my dad slowly walked back to his bedroom. I’ll never forget the site of him returning into the living room with a decoratively wrapped box that appeared long and thin. “Johnny, this is for you,” he said. “Santa must have been busy and accidentally put it in the wrong place.”

Noisy paper and ribbon flew all over the living room as I made my way to the center of that box. I nearly fainted and could not believe what I was holding. This was better than a dream. In my hands was a brand new Ted Williams 20-gauge shotgun. It wasn’t just any shotgun, it was MY shotgun.

I made the rounds giving the biggest hugs I could muster to mom and dad, then let each of my brothers and sisters cradle the blued steel and walnut stock, even though my younger sisters didn’t seem impressed. I was on top of the world.

For years that shotgun was my most prized possession. I grew up hunting with it. Each fall as the leaves began to turn, squirrels, rabbits and quail for miles around could hear me coming as I slid shells into the magazine then stroking the forearm with the familiar “snickety-snick“, bringing the action to life. To this day, I still love that sound. As far as any gun made, I would put that old Ted Williams up against any on earth when talking about wild game taken.

That initial gun has given way to a litany of others, but none are more special. Even though it hasn’t been used in years, I still pull it from its case and work the action from time to time. The memories that flow from the wood and steel are warm and inviting. It will always hold a sacred place in my heart.

Although my Dad is no longer here, I think of him daily. And when I hold that old shotgun in my arms, I can still see his face reflecting off the oiled down receiver. I dream about the times we hunted together. I almost feel like he is still around and in a way I think he is.

To my Mom and Dad, thank you very much! After 47 years, that first shotgun still means the world to me.

And to each and every one of you, here’s hoping your dreams come true on that special day. Merry Christmas!


John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.


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