As a child growing up on the west side of Chicago, I was afforded no Second Amendment rights.
My father, having served under fire as a Captain from D-Day at Omaha Beach until a third bullet wound landed him in a hospital in Paris for six months, had little use for guns. He would frequently say that he’d seen all the guns he could ever have wanted to see in the war.
For similar reasons, he didn’t care for fireworks displays.
After serving nine years in a “well regulated Militia,” which he called the Army, he had little sense of needing to protect himself from the government he had served.
Our family included no hunters, preferring to buy our animal proteins from the butcher shops along Cermack Road on Chicago’s west side. We loved the pheasant, duck and squirrel brought to us by friends who did hunt, however.
We lived in a compact home on a quiet street, just off Roosevelt Road—one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city. There was a one-car garage with a window placed oddly high, and behind the frame building was a narrow sandbox I shared with the neighborhood cats and where I dug trenches with a rusted yellow Tonka steam-shovel.
One summer afternoon, I scaled the boxes beneath the garage window and opened the cedar chest that contained the remnants of my father’s Army service. The chest had not been declared off limits; in fact, I don’t recall noticing it until that day. There were pleasant and intriguing aromas of wood and wool, oil and mothballs; there was his dress uniform wrapped in crinkly brown paper and there were colorful campaign ribbons and shiny brass pins, loose black-and-white photographs, manila envelopes closed by strings between paper discs, and a stack of onion-skin correspondence with my mother’s handwriting neatly bundled with frayed, brown cord.
These were strange and intriguing things—things I didn’t know existed.
There was also a handgun—an Army-issued sidearm—that I removed from its oil-stained holster and proudly carried out of the garage and down the driveway, its muzzle pointing to the pavement. I remember looking at Dad crouching in the narrow driveway when he looked at me and slowly stood erect, and in a firm and steady voice said, “Stop. Don’t move.”
I froze in my tracks. My eyes met his. I glanced around, looking for my mother and sister who seemed to have vanished. I can’t see them in my memory, although they had been there only moments before.
I hadn’t the time to move before my father had rushed to my side and disarmed me, swiftly dumping the shells from its chamber onto the driveway—their brass casings clinking musically as they bounced on the cement—with a deftness he must have retained from Basic Training.
He picked up the shells, shoved them into his pants pocket and stormed away. I was not yet five years old and I stood there scared and ready to cry. Dad had disappeared into the house and Mom seemed to appear from nowhere, standing outside the kitchen door, my sister clutched in her arms. They stared at me with looks I had never seen, fear and anger deeply set in their eyes.
Suddenly, Dad was back in my view.
“Get in the car.”
I climbed onto the front seat of the faded emerald green Ford coupe. He got behind the wheel, tucked the pistol between his thigh and car’s bench seat and started the engine. He gave my shoulder a comforting squeeze as he turned to back down the driveway.
We drove in silence for what seemed an eternity, though it was only a few minutes. We arrived at a house I didn’t know in a neighborhood of grim, red-brick row houses with no driveways or front yards. Dad pulled to the curb, stuck the gun into his jacket pocket and bounded up the few steps to the house. A fat man in a white T-shirt answered my father’s knock and my father disappeared through the front door. Mere minutes elapsed before he returned to the car, his expression unchanged from that moment in the driveway when he had told me not to move.
“He’s a gun collector,” he said by way of explanation. We drove home slowly, his deep-set, steely blue eyes looking straight ahead.
My parents fought that night, as only my parents fought—a cascading torrent of all the imaginable “what-ifs”.
AN OLD FRIEND OF MINE DIED a couple of weeks ago. In laic terms, he was what could be considered a “gun nut.” He worried deeply about the “what-ifs” that could befall him if he weren’t appropriately armed for every occasion.
I imagine that his biggest death-bed regret was that he never had the opportunity to take up arms against the government, of which he was woefully suspicious. The thought made me chuckle.
His politics were libertarian and his racism slowly emerged in concord with his abandoning a comfortable suburban life for a hardscrabble existence on a patch of arid dirt on which he raised chickens. A one-time business executive had devolved into a racist red neck.
His racism was, if fact, what ended our friendship.
At the time we met, I was developing an interest in hunting and he became my mentor. He taught hunter education and we went hunting once together.
I had a rather romantic notion of hunting—one in keeping with the imagery of Robert De Niro in The Deerhunter—adherence to a “one-shot” philosophy while afield.
Our hunting location was near Paso Robles, California. An abandoned almond orchard to which we had access was home to a small herd of Coastal deer. They were about the size of German shepherds, with dappled buttocks. After spending the day lounging around the pool at our motel, we drove to the orchard, unfolded our lawn chairs, and sat waiting for the deer to come into range. When they didn’t, we packed up and drove to nearby Templeton for steak dinners at A J Spurs Saloon.
It was there that we spoke about gun control, which at the time didn’t allow public carry or the ownership of machine guns or other fully automatic weapons.
And it was there that I saw the emergence of a man who believed that everybody should have as many guns in as many styles as one wants to protect themselves from—you guessed it—the government.
Had he not heard of tanks?
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
Hunter’s chicken (poulet sauté chasseur)
In Italy, there are as many ways to prepare the hunter’s chicken (pollo alla cacciatore) as there are grandmothers. In France, this classic dish is well-defined—with variations not necessarily encouraged.
3-4 lb. chicken, cut into eight pieces
1/2 cup plain flour
1-2 Tbs. unsalted butter
For the stock
Wings, backbone, and neck from the butchered chicken
1 carrot, chopped coarsely
1 medium onion, chopped coarsely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs. tomato paste
2 cups canned beef stock
Trimmed mushroom stems
1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, thyme, parsley stems)
Brown the chicken pieces to a deep color without burning. Add the carrots, onion and garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste. Add mushroom stems, bouquet garni; cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
For the sauce: Prepare and have ready
2 Tbs. shallots, minced
8 oz. white mushrooms, halved
3 Tbs. cognac
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. fresh tarragon (1 tsp. dried)
1 Tbs. flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper, and coat with flour. Melt butter in a Dutch oven and add the chicken, skin side down. Cook until the pieces are golden-brown. Cover and place into a 350° oven for about 25 minutes. Remove chicken and cover to keep warm.
Sauté the mushrooms in butter over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the shallots. After a minute or two, flambe with cognac and cook down. Deglaze with the white wine and reduce. Add the chicken stock and reduce.
Off heat, whisk in some butter. Stir in the herbs. Add the chicken pieces to warm. Serve with rice or potatoes, garnished with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.