Cries and Whispers: Gun Babel

Do you believe that the things you possess pick up a little of your spirit over the years? That keeping your father’s house key, keeps a little of him with you? That eating off your grandmother’s good china brings a little of her holiday laughter into your kitchen? Call it spirit, call it electrons, call it energy — I believe.

So this weekend I’m cataloging (updating) and pricing a 19th-century gun collection — pistols owned by cowboys, gamblers, soldiers, homesteaders. They are beautifully designed and machined tools of the highest craftsmanship but, oh, their spirit is heavy — full of fear, sorrow, and anxious bravado. I’m not thinking about it — worrying more about my lists and labels — so the heaviness creeps up on me.

When I pick up an old Civil War era Colt with a worn grip, a scratched up cylinder and nicked barrel, I have to wonder: did this kill someone? Was it out of patriotism or hatred… or terror? What happened to the young man who held it in his trembling hands. Did he weep? Did he get drunk? Did he have sex? Or did he race home to his mother praying to forget it all?

The most persnickety gun collectors like their firearms pristine, looking like they just came from the factory. Maybe they don’t like to be bothered by the cries and whispers. But Jim and I both gravitate to the well-used, worn out objets. For better or for worse, for sadder and for wiser, they carry more spirit. If I begin to feel blue when handling a hundred spirit-drenched weapons, I try not to push myself away — because the feeling is true.

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