By Regina Wirtanen Buker
My dad’s most prized possession, a Kentucky rifle, held a place of honor over the living room fireplace. When I was young, the rifle was longer than I was tall: four and a half feet long, ten pounds of steel, wood and brass, a real beauty. Growing up, every important family photograph was shot in front of the fireplace with the rifle hanging above us. When it was time for me to marry and rain forced the wedding from my parents’ garden into the living room, of course my husband and I would pose in front of the Kentucky rifle.
As a child, I had thought every family had weapons hanging on their walls. The collection began when my dad sent home a variety of German and Italian pistols from Europe in WWII. Dueling pistols, Derringers, and Dragoons were among the hundred weapons that were mounted on the den walls. (The guns and swords that confronted my dates may explain why I had few second dates in my teens.) But in 1972, a handsome Marine stood up to the power of my dad’s arsenal. And, one year later, as the rain poured, our guests gathered around us in the small living room and some peeked in from the porch windows; we exchanged our vows before the fireplace. The rain and packed rooms didn’t bother me. I had a perfect wedding day. Only when I got the photographs did I complain. The fault was not a crooked smile or red-eye in the photos. No. The Kentucky rifle was missing. I asked my new husband what had happened. “Your maid of honor said the rifle suggested a ‘shotgun’ wedding. Your mom agreed.”
In 1995, my father gave me the Kentucky rifle. Not the typical rite of passage between father and daughter, I’ll admit. But, for me, the last treasure of my dad’s gun collection carries my dearest memories. We were sitting at his table at the Maryland Antique Arms Show, an annual tradition for 35 years. He was 78, and downsizing. Sadness filled his eyes as he sealed the deals that liquidated his collection. Only one item remained on the table all weekend, without a price tag. Then, on Sunday, he handed the rifle to me. “Take it home,” he said, and smiled.
By giving me the Kentucky rifle my dad affirmed all our cherished times together. Even so, when I look at it hanging in our home now, I still want a redo of our wedding photo.
Copyright © 2009 Reginia Wirtanen Buker.
Regina Wirtanen Buker resides in Northeast Baltimore and directs a non-profit homeownership program. A member of the Deepdene Writers, she is currently writing The Skytrain Pilot, a book about her father’s WWII service as a C-47 pilot.