Red Tommy-Gun

We lived in the back of a tavern when my Dad went off to WW II, leaving my Mother to bartend and manage the place. I was able to listen and understand when my Mom gathered my brother and me around the radio shrine to hear the daily battle reports, every time wishing I could crawl through the radio, dive into the mud beside my Dad and help him wipe out those vermin. How could I destroy those Japs at 5 years old?

My Mom, though, a gentle woman who would not hurt a fly, had the best solution. She got me a gun, not store-bought. We were poor. Made it or someone did.  It was an awkward looking tommy-gun carved out of a single piece of wood, stained with smelly bright red paint, a gift and the way I could help my Dad destroy the enemy.

For months I lugged that gun around the bar room, which was fairly empty in the day- time, diving behind tables and chairs as I mowed down the Japs. Some of the afternoon customers patted me on the head as I shouted: “Take that. Take that!,” fantasizing the bulging eyes and fallen bodies I wiped out, never stopping until the bar began to fill up for the night and always sleeping with that gun instead of my teddy bear, always believing I was bringing my Dad home. 

Only years later, when I was marching and organizing against the Vietnam War did I flash back on what I did and realize that my barroom heroism was unpatriotic and had nothing to do with the death of my Dad. 

Originally published in Fewer Than 500 magazine