A Girl, a Wedding, and a Weapon

June 18, 2009

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.

Not A Book Review

January 14, 2009

Slipping the Moorings, By Susan McCallum-Smith

Book reviews are not something I do, but I highly recommend this particular volume because the author is,book1 I’m proud to say, a friend of mine.
Even so, I can also say that this personal plug is for a collection of accomplished and engrossing tales by a very talented young writer. Susan and I met in a Johns Hopkins University evening writing class some years’ back. When the class ended, several of us formed what we called “The Little Group of Serious Writers” and began to meet every couple of weeks to talk about writing and to critique each other’s work. For me, even when reading early drafts of Susan’s stories, I detected what I came to think of as “heft.” It’s a word I define, when applied to writing, as having depth and breath and clarity; also humor, insight, sensitivity and nuance. So, as I use it, that small word is actually very large (it contains multitudes), and applies to only the very best prose, the kind of writing that entertains even as it moves and informs the reader. Susan’s book gives us stories I believe my reading friends—and their friends, and their friends of friends—will find to be not just fun and beautifully written, but—dare I say it—even soul satisfying. Don’t just take my word for it; several of Susan’s professional peers also have great praise for her first collection of short fiction:

“No one could blame you for pausing with a slight air of forgetful uncertainty after devouring three or four stories in this fabulous collection, closing the book to glance again at the name of its author. Margot Livesey? Maeve Binchy? Sorry, no, but you’re in the right league, not by reputation but certainly by measure of aesthetic luminosity, narrative acumen, and dazzling descriptive powers unmatched except by the very best writers of this age or any other. Susan McCallum-Smith, a brilliant young writer making her debut, soars across the transatlantic pond of contemporary literature like a frigate bird, an old master with fresh wings, and Slipping The Moorings overwhelms with grace, elegance, gravity, humor, intelligence and dare I say perfection. Susan McCallum-Smith. Congratulations, dear reader–you just discovered a new and extraordinary talent.”
Bob Shacochis, National Book Award-winning author of
Easy In The Islands and The Next New World.

“Susan McCallum- Smith enters the minds and particularly the voices of her diverse characters with much understanding, humour, and sympathy. She renders moments of conflict and change with lively language, and illuminates these moments with an admirable attention to detail and imagery.”
Sheila Kohler, author of Cracks.

“Sean O’Faolain said the short story must supply both punch and poetry, and Susan McCallum-Smith’s debut story collection does that and much more. Ranging from the edgy to the elegiac, these stories feature characters living in contexts of emotional urgency within worlds richly, even munificently, observed.”
Margaret Meyers, author of Swimming in the Congo.

Susan’s publisher, Entsasis Press, describes her work this way: “McCallum-Smith creates vivid portraits of individuals who bear the scars of failed relationships, misunderstood intentions, sexual and physical abuse, and spiritual isolation. These nine stories, which move effortlessly from the 19th to the 21st centuries, take the reader to a Mexican colonial city for a Day of the Dead celebration, to visitors’ day at a Glasgow prison, to Belle Epoch New York, to the contemporary art scene of London, to villages of Scotland’s rugged coast, and to Montreal, where a hockey fan’s keen interest in the game leads to an unexpected dilemma. McCallum-Smith’s ability to give a comic and wry edge to a dark scene, to capture the patois of both high and low society, to navigate the turbulent waters of dysfunctional families, and to pull her readers through the emotional undertow of these stories attests to the power of her fictive voice. Much of the pleasure for readers lies in her masterful use of syntax and figurative language; her talent for finding exactly the right images to convey mood and setting gives her work its immediacy and its keen sense of place, creating elements of lasting beauty and transcendent insight.”

I couldn’t agree more. susan-colorFinally, Susan, being the modest lass that she is, tells us just a wee bit about herself: “I grew up in a family and a city (Glasgow) of storytellers, and many of the stories were tall, and not all of them savory, and it instilled in me a passion for language and a fascination with the nuance and diversity of the human voice.”

Born and raised in Scotland, Susan McCallum-Smith currently lives in Baltimore, where she is a freelance editor and book reviewer. Her work has appeared in Urbanite, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Scottish Review of Books; her reviews are often heard on Maryland Public Radio. She received her MA from Johns Hopkins University and her MFA from Bennington College. Slipping the Moorings is her first book. Visit her literary blog by clicking the “Belles Lettres” link in the sidebar blogroll.

Author Photo by Jason Okutake.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.