Issue 307 – Oct. 10, 2015 – The Paregien Journal – Stan Paregien Sr., Editor
One of the ascending stars in the Republican Party is Marco Rubio. He is currently the junior U.S. Senator from my adopted home state of Florida. And he is one of several people campaigning to win the Republican nomination to become their candidate for the 2016 presidential race.
What follows is a profile of Senator Rubio which I gleaned from his book titled An American Son: A Memoir (New York City: Sentinel, 2012).
Part I of this profile examines Senator Rubio’s rather modest family roots. While not born in a log cabin like Abe Lincoln, he does come from a line of folks who as Cubans had personal goals, dreams and ambitions only to wind up losing those and even losing their beloved country to Castro’s communism. It also shows how new generations of immigrants often become successful because of the examples of their parents and grandparents who taught them by example not to give up when faced with adversity, poverty and overwhelming odds. It is a story well worth a few minutes of your time.
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Rubio’s ancestors were hard working men and women in Cuba. His great-grandparents – Carlos Pérez and Ramona García — had emigrated from Spain to Cuba, where they bought land and began farming near the village of Jicotea. Carlos did quite well as a farmer but, unlike many of his neighbors, he refused to sell his land at fire-sale prices to wealthy businessmen who operated with the blessing of the American military.
Ramona was the matriarch of the family, and it was a large one. She had three children by a previous relationship and an additional fourteen children by this last relationship, but only married Mr. Pérez when he was on his death bed.
His maternal grandfather, Mr. Pedro Victor García was born on January 31, 1899 in the dirt-poor province of Villa Clara. That was the year that the Spanish occupation forces left the country for good, only to be replaced by American military leaders.
In 1900, the political leaders in the United States decided to annex Cuba. However, the Cubans were allowed to vote on the issue. And, against the prospect of American-generated prosperity for the island, Cubans voted against annexation and in favor of independence.
Marco Rubio’s father, Pedro Victor García, came down with polio as a child. The disease left him with a crippled leg which ruled out most farm work. It was a blessing, though, in that his parents kept him in school. He would be the only one of the 17 children to get a decent education and to have any real hope of getting a fairly good job.
Mr. Garcia loved to read and to learn everything he could about his world. He became a great believer in the future of the republic of Cuba. And he was a firm advocate of intellectual freedom and self-reliance. So much so that when his father died, he declined to change his last name (his mother’s name) to that of his father even though it meant he would not receive any of the man’s estate. Late in his life he would pass those high virtues on to his grandson, Marco Rubio.
Pedro Victor García was plucky enough to apply for a job with the railroad and lucky enough to get a job as a telegraph operator. Then he began working his way up the career ladder.
Along the way, he traveled on business to the town of Cabaiguán. There he met, fell in love with and married Dominga Rodríguez. She had grown up in an environment of grinding poverty and she had only finished the 6th grade. Still, they were married in 1920 when he was 21 and she was almost 17. They had children and made a nice living that afforded a large house staffed with servants and nannies.
However, late in 1924, their world was turned upside down. Pedro Victor García suffered not only humiliation about a significant financial loss when he was demoted at work (in favor of a man with better political connections) and, ultimately, was fired. Their situation put them into a crisis mode as he, with his severe physical disability, simply could not find a good job. So he walked all over the city to accept part-time, occasional work doing menial jobs. That in itself was a challenge, since he could not walk without a cane and often became unbalanced and fell and hurt himself.
By 1930, Pedro Victor García and his family had been forced out of their fine home. They settled into a one-room house in a poor section of town. Still, their family dignity kept them from acting like victims and from looking like their often dirty and dejected neighbors. And somehow, Mr. García scraped together enough money to keep his large family fed and clothed.
Then one day he was hired to work in a tobacco mill. No, it was not a manufacturing job. He simply read interesting and inspiring articles and stories to the scores of workers who worked at tables hand-rolling cigars and cigarettes. The company’s idea was that such exposure would lessen the drudgery of such tedious work, thus resulting in a lower turnover of employees. The work was easy for Pedro and he enjoyed learning the material and making it as entertaining as possible, but it did not pay much at all.
Slowly, though, his own dreams for his career and for the members of his family began to fade in the face of stark reality. His children had to find jobs of their own at very young ages. That included Marco Rubio’s own mother. The entire family, hoping for better job opportunities, left Cabaiguán in 1940 and moved to the capital city of Havana.
There in Havana, Pedro Victor García and his family moved into a small apartment in a low-income government housing project. Each building had several apartments, but they were so austere they had to share a bathroom in the common areas.
Mario Rubio’s mother, Oriales García, went to work as a cashier at a small retail store. She gave every cent she made to her own mother who handled the family’s money and paid their bills.
Meanwhile, Marco Rubio’s paternal grandparents were having their own struggles. Antonio Rubio’s parents both died when he was only 14. He lived with relatives for a time, then ran away to Havana where he would tackle life on its unforgiving terms. Eventually, he met and married Eloisa Reina there in Havana. They, then, were the paternal grandparents of Marco Rubio.
Antonio and Eloisa (Reina) Rubio had their first child in 1920 when he was about 35 and she was about 28 years of age. That child died at birth, but they had seven other children including Marco’s father, Mario Rubio (born Oct. 29, 1926). Antonio and Eloisa ran a small catering business, even though she suffered from bouts of tuberculosis many periods of her life. She would cook breakfast and lunch meals for workers at a big cigar factory and Antonio would deliver the meals to them.
Their successful enterprise enabled them to live in a large, comfortable house. But their own world turned upside down then that cigar factory closed. Antonio Rubio and his family had no choice but to give up their business and home and to move in with relatives. From that day forward, Antonio’s ambitions and dreams were tempered with the cold reality that he would have to become a lowly-paid street vendor. He didn’t like it but he had to feed his family, so that is what he did.
Marco’s father, only eight years old at the time, had to quit school and go to work. He had not yet learned to read and write, but he was bright and learned those skills entirely on his own.
Then in 1935, Antonio Rubio’s beloved wife died of pneumonia (years before the invention of life-saving penicillin). She was only 42, and son Mario was only nine. That left Marco’s paternal grandfather with the sole responsibility for seven children between the ages of 16 and 4. He began to put more time into his work selling on the streets and largely leaving his children to care for themselves. It was not unusual at all for the entire family to go to bed with hunger gnawing at their stomachs. Eventually, Antonio Rubio moved in with another woman and, though they never married, they had one child together.
Young Mario went to work as a security guard in a nearby cafeteria and would continue to support himself for the next 70 years. At age 14 he began living out on his own. And at age 19, his father Antonio died from pneumonia, so he learned to be a survivor. He was allowed to sleep on wooden crates in a storage area at the cafeteria, as did a few other young men.
One day Mario Rubio struck up a conversion with a co-worker, cashier Oriales García. They began dating and she told friends he was really handsome, that he looked like the American actor Tyrone Power. They married on April 28, 1949 and lived in a small apartment. Mario was 22 and Oriales was 18. Their first child, Mario Victor Rubio, was born in 1950.
Mario dreamed of starting his own radio and TV repair shop or of even becoming a singer and entertainer. Oriales had a dream of becoming an actress. Those dreams—like the dreams held for a time by their respective parents and grandparents—faded rapidly as the economic realities of raising a family began to dominate their lives. Plus, Mario injured a leg by stepping into a hole during a baseball game. The damage was so bad that he would forever walk with a distinct limp.
1957: FROM CUBA TO MIAMI
One of Oriales (García) Rubio’s sisters emigrated to the United States. That woman saw opportunity everywhere and began urging them to move there, too. So on May 27, 1956, Mario and Oriales (García) Rubio and son Mario Victor Rubio—along with Oriales’ parents — Pedro V. and Dominga (Rodríguez) — García arrived in New York City. The harsh winter there proved too much, and the next year they all moved to Miami, Florida.
In Miami, the elder Mario and his wife Oriales both went to work in a factory where aluminum lawn chairs were assembled. Soon he was also training on the side to work as a bar boy (a bartender’s assistant). Then he was hired by the Roney Plaza Hotel in beautiful Miami Beach. But he was still dreaming of opening his own small business. In fact, he opened several such ventures on the side and they all failed.
By 1959, Mario Rubio had become a bar tender and was making a decent wage. But he regularly worked from early evening until about 2 a.m. or so. And that year he and Oriales had their second child, a daughter they named Barbara Rubio. And the patriarch of the relocated clan, Pedro V. García, returned to the old country by himself. In March of 1961, with Fidel Castro ruling Cuba and moving steadily toward Communism, Oriales Rubio returned to Cuba and convinced her ailing father to return to Miami with her. And he did so. But he would never again see his native country nor would he ever again see his brothers and sisters.
In April of 1961, some Cubans-in-exile — urged on and supported by the Central Intelligence Committee of the United States — attacked Castro’s forces at the Bay of Pigs. They were soundly defeated and it was an embarrassment for the John F. Kennedy administration.
In 1962, the United States levied an all-out economic embargo against Cuba. It was in October of 1962 that the leaders of Russia and the United States were engaged in a “stare down” called “the Cuban missile crisis.” Russia blinked and took their missiles back home.
1964 was the year that Mario Rubio took his young family out to Los Angeles, where he thought he and his wife might be able to do better, financially. This was in the middle of America’s cultural revolution and racial rioting. So they returned to Miami and in 1966 bought their very first house. Oriales’ parents, Pedro and Dominga García took up residence in a nearby apartment. That very next year, Dominga had a heart attack and died.
It was on May 28, 1971 that Mario and Oriales welcomed a completely unplanned blessing to their home: a baby boy they named Marco _____ Rubio. And, lo and behold, in 1972 they added a baby girl, Veronica Rubio. Another celebration came when, in 1975, Mario and Oriales Rubio proudly became citizens of these United States of America.
The Catholic Church was destined to become an important factor in the life of young Marco Rubio. As a child, his mother and he attended Mass each Saturday evening just down the street at St. Raymond Catholic Church.
Marco was nearing his 5th birthday when the manager of the hotel where his father worked up and offered him a job managing an apartment complex near the airport. His boss said he would get a free apartment, the same wages, and would also be able to earn extra money by working at the hotel as a bar tender on the weekends. Mario Rubio jumped at the chance, and the family moved to the apartment.
And then disaster hit, again. The owners of the apartment complex sold it and Mario was without a job and the family was without a home. Soon his father found another job as an apartment manager, this time in Hialeah. The family moved into a house nearby. Marco started school at Kensington Park Elementary.
A few months later, a large management company took over the apartments in Hialeah and, again, the elder Mario Rubio was without a job. Dispirited and desperate, again, he began working with a relative who painted houses. The hotels were not hiring. Tourism in Miami was in a downward spiral, partly because of the widespread media coverage of the area’s increase in crime – particularly murders and drug usage and sales.
1979: VIVA LAS VEGAS
So one day early in May of 1979, Mario and Oriales Rubio loaded up their two youngest children and their meager belongings and moved to the bright lights of Las Vegas. That’s when Mario, now 52 years old, ran into the twin evils of iron-clad unionism and age discrimination. The hotels were booming and hiring, but only at entry level positions and wages. The union bosses made sure outsiders were at the bottom of the lists and that the better jobs were filled by younger union members moving up. Mario had been a head bartender for over 20 years, but now he had to settle for a job at a casino hotel as a bartender’s assistant at much less than he had been making.
They lived in a working class neighborhood at 3104 East Lava Avenue on the north side of Las Vegas. Their first friends were a family who were Mormons and who invited them to their church’s social activities and worship services. Soon the traditionally Catholic Rubio family, minus the skeptical Mario, were regulars at the Mormon Church. And soon Marco, his sister Veronica and his mother Oriales were official baptized members of the Mormon Church.
Marco wrote of those days, “All in all, the Mormon Church provided the sound moral structure my mother had wanted for us, and a circle of friends from stable, God-fearing families. When we left the church a few years later, mostly at my instigation, we did so with gratitude for its considerable contribution to our happiness in those years” (p. 40).
Marco and his younger sister Veronica attended C.C. Ronnow Elementary School near their house. The racial makeup of the school was much more diverse than they had experienced back in Miami. Instead of mostly Cuban-Americans, here the students were white, a few Hispanics and many black students (bused from a neighborhood several miles from there).
During his Las Vegas days, Marco took advantage of many opportunities to interact with and to learn from his grandfather, Pedro Victor García (whom they called Papá). The old man spent many hours a day sitting on their small front porch, particular after meals, when he would light up a Cuban cigar and read a newspaper or a book. And he was free with his praise of the United States and of such men as Harry Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt. And he graciously invited Marco to ask him questions on any topic.
In his 2012 book, An American Son: A Memoir, Marco wrote lovingly about how his maternal grandfather, Pedro Victor García, had such a great influence on his own life:
“Papá seemed to know something about almost everything, or everything that interested me anyway. He was a gifted storyteller, the talent he had learned as a cigar factory lector [back in Cuba – sp]. His accounts were exciting and forceful, rich in imagery and telling anecdotes. They held me spellbound.
“My interest in politics began around the time we moved to Vegas, and by 1980 politics was a preoccupation second only to football. Two events had captured my attention that year: Senator Edward Kennedy’s challenge to President Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination and the Iran hostage crisis. I was a Kennedy supporter. With rapt attention I watched the Democratic convention in New York, and was crushed by the outcome of what seemed an excruciatingly slow delegate count that gave the nomination to President Carter. I was inspired by Senator Kennedy’s concession speech.
“My grandfather didn’t admire either of them. Ronald Reagan was his man. He despised President Carter because of the Iran hostage crisis, a humiliation Papá seemed to feel personally. America must be a strong country, he constantly preached, or the world would succumb to darkness, and a strong country requires a strong leader. He thought the world didn’t respect or fear Carter. He was weak, he said, and other countries preyed on his weakness. That’s why the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and the Iranians had seized our embassy. He blamed the failed attempt to rescue the hostages on cuts to defense spending Carter had made. Ronald Reagan would restore our strength, he assured me. He would confront communism. Our allies would follow him and our enemies would respect him.
“When Reagan was elected and Iran released our hostages on his inauguration, Papá made certain to point out to me that it confirmed everything he had been telling me. Reagan had barely been sworn into office, and our enemies were already capitulating to him. Reagan’s election and my grandfather’s allegiance to him were defining influences on me politically. I’ve been a Republican ever since. More than just help me develop a political identity, my grandfather instilled in me the importance of strong leadership and conviction. He urged me to study and learn but, more important, to do something useful with the knowledge I acquired.
“I wrote a paper in the fifth grade praising President Reagan for restoring the U.S. military after it had been demoralized and allowed to decay in the years before his presidency. I recently found it in a red suitcase that had belonged to my grandfather, and still contains some of his possessions.
“Papá was an unwavering supporter of President Reagan for the remainder of his life. He loved Reagan’s anti-Soviet and prodemocracy rhetoric, and he staunchly defended the more controversial Reagan policies. I particularly remember his outspoken support for Reagan’s development of the MX missile, and support for the Contras in Nicaragua and the government of El Salvador.
“My grandfather’s talks weren’t always about history or current events. Neither were they scrupulously objective. He wasn’t an admirer of our new church [The Mormon Church – sp]. He was never a religious man, although I know he believed in God, and openly acknowledged Him. But I never saw him attend any religious service except on the single occasion when he agreed to accompany us to Sunday services at the Mormon Church. After we can home and ate lunch, he went to smoke his cigar on the porch and I followed him. I asked him what he had thought of the services, and he told me he would never go back because he hadn’t seen a single African American in attendance. He wasn’t entirely accurate. There was a biracial family in the congregation at the time. But the argument didn’t impress my grandfather, and true to his word, he kept his distance from our church.
“He could be quite sharp in his criticism of people, even people close to him, of whose behavior he disapproved. He frequently found fault with some of my Miami cousins who he believed lacked direction and ambition. When the Culinary Workers Union staged a strike at my father’s place of employment, which my father, as a member of the union, was obliged to join, he told my father he hoped Reagan would fire them all as he did the striking air traffic controllers.
“For reasons he never shared with me, Papá didn’t like my friends, the Thiriots. When they called the house and asked for me, he would hang up the phone. When they came to the door, he would tell them I wasn’t at home. Some of my behavior frustrated him. He couldn’t abide my passion for football and resented my refusal to play baseball. He loved Tommy Lasorda and the LA Dodgers and was hurt when I wouldn’t agree to watch their games with him.
“He had odd quirks. He liked to call my sister by an invented nickname that scrambled the letters of her name, ‘Canirove’ [for Veronica – sp]. He constantly drummed his knuckles on a table or the arm of a chair in a specific and unvarying rhythmic pattern, a tick I now possess. He claimed to be part Chinese, which he was not. He boasted he was directly related to José Martí [a Cuban intellectual who championed independence from Spain – sp], whom he slightly resembled, but who is not, according to any known records, one of our ancestors. In his last years, he insisted he was born an American citizen around the turn of the century in Tampa, Florida, where Martí had lived in exile for a time. We kept an old Universal weight-lifting machine that I used to train for football in the rec room in our house that also served as his bedroom. He frequently complained that the contraption wasted electricity. When I explained that it didn’t use electricity, he ignored me.
“My father [ Mario Rubio – sp ] like to tease my grandfather about little things, his quirks and some of his opinions. Most of it was good-natured kidding, and it didn’t anger my grandfather. It might have annoyed him a little at times, but he never showed it. ‘Okay, Mario. Whatever you say, Mario,’ was usually the only response he would give. My mother, on the other hand, would get angry at my father. She thought his teasing was disrespectful, and would scold him for it.
“My father probably shared my grandfather’s political views, but he rarely discussed politics with my grandfather or with me when I was young, or with anyone as far as I know. He was consumed by the business of making a living and raising his children, and showed little interest in much else. He shared the family’s antipathy to communism and visceral dislike for talk about redistributing wealth. Like my grandfather, he believed such schemes led only to entrenching the power of the regime at the expense of the powerless, who lost jobs and opportunities because their employers had fled the [Cuban – sp] regime that had confiscated their property.
“My father and grandfather were different in many respects. They had different personalities, and neither was given to effusive expressions of affection. But they loved each other. My grandfather admired how committed my father was to our family, how hard he worked to give us a decent home, now carefully he protected us. To my father, the young refugee from an unhappy home, my grandfather and grandmother were his first experience with two loving parents since his mother had died.
“My grandfather was my mentor and my closest boyhood friend. I learned at his feet, relied on his counsel and craved his respect. I still do.” He constantly urged me to study hard and go to college. He wanted Veronica and me to live accomplished lives when we grew up. He wanted us to have not jobs, but distinguished careers that would give our lives purpose and the social status he had always wanted for himself. He would scold me for performing poorly in school, but he never let me believe I was incapable of being successful. He knew I could be, and he helped me prepare for it. His dreams for us were his legacy.
“He taught me many things, but none more important than the conviction that I must not waste the opportunities my parents had sacrificed to give us and our country made available to us. I’ve always believed, even when I was an inattentive and undisciplined student, that the time would arrive for me to become serious and do something important with my life, and I would be ready for it. I believe it because Papá taught me to believe it. And that, more than the wealth of knowledge he shared with me, more than the epics of history he evoked so powerfully for me, more than his opinions and his eccentricities, has made all the difference in the world to me.”
[ The long quote, above, was taken from Marco Rubio’s book An American Son: A Memoir (New York City: Sentinel, 2012), pp. 44-47. This copyrighted material is used here under the “Fair Use” clause which permits use for non-commercial purposes not likely to have an adverse financial effect on the copyright owner. ]
Me and My Red Ryder BB Gun
Ah, yes, those were the days. I sure do wish I had my trusty Daisy BB gun back, again. It was a “Red Ryder” model, named in honor of the fictional cowboy character who first appeared in comic books, then on radio (with little Bobby Blake, later known as off-beat actor Robert Blake, playing “Little Beaver”), and finally on the Silver Screen (i.e., black and white movies). And BB gun had a genuine wood stock, not one of those hollow plastic things. I can hear right now the soft, rattling sound those brass-looking, small BBs as I tipped their round carton up and poured them in the storage tube running right beneath the barrel.
The Red Ryder character was the creation of two men: Stephen Slesinger (a publisher) and Fred Harman (a talented artist and illustrator). The comic strip began late in 1938, reached a maximum syndication exposure of 750 newspapers, and then quietly died in 1964. It was also a radio program for several years.
In the some 35 Red Ryder movies, the hero was played by a variety of actors. In 1940, it was diminutive Don Barry who played in a 12-episode serial called “The Adventures of Red Ryder” (Tommy Cook played his sidekick, Little Beaver). After that series, Don Barry was nicknamed Don “Red” Barry and it stuck.
Then came the memorable films made by Bill “Wild Bill” Elliott and handsome Allen “Rocky” Lane, with Bobby Blake playing Little Beaver in all those films. The final four Red Ryder films were done in color and starred actor Jim Bannon with Don Kay Reynolds as his young friend Little Beaver. Two different TV pilots were filmed, one starring Jim Bannon and the other starring Allen Lane, but no one optioned them.
Now, . . . you do know what will happen . . . for sure . . . , if you give a kid a BB gun, don’t you? You certainly know if you have watched any of the annual showings of “A Christmas Story” (1983). He will shoot himself in the eye, that’s what will happen. That sorta wierd film has a sold cult-like core of fans who could never get enough of adult actor Darren McGaven (“the father”), Melinda Dillon (“the mother”) and child actor Peter Billingsley (“Ralphie, the son with the BB gun”).
Well, it is time for an overdue confession. And it has to do with me pulling the trigger on my trusty Red Ryder BB gun and, . . . sure ’nuff, shooting my cousin in the eye (or at least the edge of it). Sad, but true.
That dastardly deed took place in about 1950. My parents (Harold and Evelyn Paregien) and my sister, Roberta, and I lived in an old farm house right on the south side of Highway 126 (about 3 miles west of Santa Paula, Calif.). My dad was a farm hand on the Todd Estate. He irrigated the orange trees, pruned them, fertilized them and lit “smudge pots” around them in the winter to try to keep them from freezing.
So it was that we lived next to 75 or more acres of Valencia orange trees and right next to a “barranca” (or very small creek; there was a highway bridge over it less than a hundred yards from our house). And that orchard and the barranca were wonderful places for kids to play. And to get into trouble.
“The kids,” in this case would be my sister and myself and assorted (or maybe a sordid) bunch of friends and cousins. The cousin who lived closest to us, and who even today is more like a brother to me, was Jerry Russell Paregien. Neither Jerry nor I ever heard our middle names used unless we were in some kind of trouble with an adult.
Now, . . . we kids had this little game we would play. Well, one of many games we played. This one involved throwing oranges at one another. The only rule was that you were supposed to be at least 15 feet away and you couldn’t hit the other person above the waist. This game obviously ignored the orchard owner’s number one rule: don’t pick my oranges. Let’s just say we thinned the crop so the remaining ones would get more nourishment. And, given the fact that all parties involved were running and jumping and squatting down to keep from getting hurt, sometimes there were . . . uh . . . accidents. Nothing too serious and the bruises usually where the sun does not usually shine.
Game #2 was, well . . . a bit more dangerous. So my sister and others of our young friends and cousins were not allowed to play “big guy stuff.” That usually meant that Jerry and I would square off in cold and calculated duels in the sun. Sometimes in the frequent coastal morning fog. It was just Jerry and his rusty, . . . er, I mean trusty BB gun and me and my superior weaponry, my cherished Red Ryder BB gun.
The rule was similar to that of Game #1, except that here we understood we needed a greater distance between us. Still no shooting above the waist. It was a great bloodless sport, chasing and dodging one another in and among the orange trees. Sometimes we even yelled words which we had heard our fathers use on occasion. In those days we wore denim jeans (mine were of the Levi denomination). So, when by luck or by accidental skill, one of us actually shot the other guy there was only a sharp sting that lasted a couple of minutes. I don’t remember anything more permanent, like a bruise or such.
Usually did not apply to the day I pert near kilt my cousin Jerry. That’s how future generations would tell the awful story. This is my own acount of the incident (easy for me to say) and I’m sticking with it.
I guess Jerry had spent the night with us there on the Todd Estate. My mother probably served us a bowl of The Breakfast of Champions, then out the door we ran with our legally purchased firearms. We usually carried at least two extra rolls of BBs. One cannot afford to be caught with one’s Roy Rogers underwear around one’s ankles in the middle of a firefight.
Usually (that word, again), we would run deeply into the orange orchard for our diehard duels of destiny. Not this time. Instead, we went a couple of hundred yards south of our house, along the barranca. That was prime hunting territory for sparrows, bluejays and red-winged blackbirds. Sometimes for big game, like ground squirrels or one of Bugs Bunny’s little cousins. But today, . . . today we were after much bigger and much more dangerous game: each other.
Jerry lost the coin toss and made his way across the barranca to the other bank, near the edge of another orange orchard owned by some other farmer. There we stood, glaring at each other like tribal gladiators. I yelled out something like, “Let the games b-e-g-i-n !” And that got the battle into high gear. Seems like that’s kinda how John Wayne did it, too.
My merciless, mercinary cousin lifted his cannon, . . . er, I mean, . . . BB gun and fired a round in my direction. It zipped past me into a bush at my side. I responded with a quick cock of my gun’s lever and shot at him from the hip — just like Palladin or Steve McQueen would have done. Only they always hit something, even with the first shot. Neither Jerry nor I had that kind of professional skill, but we were working on it.
You see, dear reader, a sophisticated BB gun shooter will expect to fire a few rounds without hitting the target. One has to adjust for windage and for the fact that the arch of the BB would rapidly descend after 35 yards or so. Then there was the fact that, in this particular case, the target in question absolutely refused to stand still and play fair. Of course, that applied to both of us.
Right there in the middle of this blazing battle, I put my left index finger up in the air to test for windage. And, there being no windage, I lifted my BB gun a smidge higher than usual (yikes, that word, again). And I stood tall and brave as I carefully sighted in my adversary. Then, with my steady right index finger, I squeezed off a shot. I could see it easily traverse the barranca and head like a meteor toward cousin Jerry. As usual, I figured to hit him on or about his front pants pocket or on his skinny thigh. This, however, was not one of those “usual” days.
Instead, that sorry sucker of a BB followed an elongated trajectory that caused it to smack right into the corner of Jerry’s left eye. He dropped his own weapon and yelled like he had been shot. Well, duh. He had. And he didn’t stop there. He hadn’t lost his mind entirely, because he did pick up his own BB gun. And then he lit out for our house like a dog scalded with turpentine. And he was yelling and crying, then crying and yelling. Maybe even using some of those few choice adult words we knew.
Meanwhile, I had little time to savor my extraordinary victory. Fact is, I took off running like crazy, too. I was hoping I could catch him at the bridge, tackle him and shut him up. Maybe threaten him or, as a last resort, bribe him. Anything that would keep my tail from an agitated momma whoopin’. Alas, neighbors, that was not to be. That little varmit, . . . er, I mean . . . my dear cousin had put his hiney in overdrive. He crossed that bridge like he was competing at a track meet and easily beat me to the house.
By the time I emerged from our orange orchard and approached the house, I could hear Jerry’s wailing account of this little incident as something akin to attempt manslaughter. I knew that could not be true. Heck, he wasn’t even a man yet. Or me, either.
When I had to stand before the Judge (my mother), I wept and wailed and pleaded my case. She was not impressed. So I threw myself on the mercy of the court. The Judge was fresh out of mercy on that day. First, she made me apologize to my own goofy, hairy-legged cousin for what was clearly an accident or–what else do lawyers say?–an act of God. Second, she gave me a lickin’ to remember and I did not just go on tickin’.
That was the very last time we ever played that doggone game.
To tell you the awful truth, though, I recently thought about challenging ol’ Jerry to a rematch. We would each have to go out and buy one of those gol-darned plastic BB guns. But I betcha I could raise blisters on his bony behind, this time.
Oh, hey, hold the cellphone. I forgot a couple of things.
Jerry Russell Paregien spent twenty-five years as an officer with the California Highway Patrol. That means each and every one of those 25 years he had to re-qualify on both his pistol and his rifle. And, how the heck could I forget this: he actually taught marksmanship at the headquarters of the CHP in Sacramento. In recent years, he even wrote two eBooks–available on Amazon.com– on certain pistols. And right now my eyesight–thanks to cataracts–is just not like it never was.
Okay, that’s it. Negatory on that BB gun rematch idea.
I wonder though. Does anyone know whether Jerry is any good at checkers?
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