This story actually isn’t about me; it’s about my Dad.
Dad grew up on the frontier, in primitive conditions. His father homesteaded just up the Lemhi valley from Salmon, Idaho, on Sandy Creek, just a couple of miles down from the Continental Divide. They eventually lost the farm and ended up sharecropping on another piece of land nearby (the “Kadletz ranch,” as he referred to it). When that wasn’t all that successful either, they ended up in town (Salmon), in a small house with one of those desk-sized woodburning stoves that functioned as a combined furnace, stovetop, and oven—you know, the ones with those circular “burners” that you could lift up by hooking with a handle, to see how the fire was doing underneath. A stovepipe came out of the top and angled out through the wall.
Dad was the second-youngest of 11 kids. Most of the older ones were on their own by this time, and his mother had died several years before. As a result, he was often left alone in the house to entertain himself.
One day he discovered, over in the corner, a coffee can full of ammunition—miscellaneous rounds for miscellaneous firearms. It occurred to him that it might be fun to drop a .22 short into the stove, by, you know, lifting up the circular burner thing with the hooked handle.
And after a few suspenseful seconds, he was rewarded with a “pop!” and the sound of the slug ricocheting around inside the stove.
In retrospect, he showed remarkable self-restraint for a 12-year-old. I’d have emptied the whole can that day. But he decided that every day, as a special treat, he’d drop another round in the stove after his Dad left.
And as he got down toward the bottom of the can, he found a rifle shell. I don’t know exactly what it was, of course, but probably something along the lines of a .30-06, with, you know, a more serious gunpowder charge and a pointed slug.
This’ll be fun, he thought.
The next morning he managed to contain his excitement through breakfast, waiting for his Dad to leave the house. When he (finally!) did, Dad rushed over to the can in the corner, grabbed the rifle round, ran to the stove, lifted the circular burner thingy with the hooked handle thingy, dropped in the round, and stood back to see what would happen.
At that moment his Dad came back into the house. Apparently he’d forgotten something.
It was a cold day, and his Dad walked over to the stove to warm his hands, then turned around to get some BTUs on his behind, when
The round went off. The little circular burner thingies went cartwheeling across the room in random directions. The stovepipe came out of the wall. The room filled with smoke and soot.
And my grandfather—whom, incidentally, I never met—spun around and said something I can’t in good conscience report here, but which could be loosely paraphrased as “Well, what do you suppose might be the matter with the stove, eh?”
In the split second before H-hour, he had noticed that his 12-year-old son was in the corner, hunkered down, as though he suspected there might be something about to happen.
The stove wasn’t the only warm thing in the house that day.
For years I thought this had happened when Dad was around 3 or 4. Toward the end of Dad’s life, we were talking about it, and he said, no, he was actually about 12 at the time.
I said, “You were old enough to know better!”
He said, “Seems to me Dad said something to that effect at the time.”
Apply this true little parable any way you like.
Photo credit: Wikimedia