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Iskigamizige-Giizis (April) Maple Sugar Moon ashi-ishwaaswi (18) 2019

                                                                 “Hold Your Fire.”
                                                       Trips Down Memory Lane

I called my neighbor, Wayne, to ask if he wanted to go to a gun auction with me in Thief River Falls on Saturday April 13, knowing, well, at least presuming, he would go because, hey, this man really likes guns. I like them too, primarily for the wealth of stories that accompany them as familial and historical objects. This gun auction was an estate sale of my cousin, Jack Davidson (1941-2018), a former Palmvilleian, whose many guns each had their own illuminated stories.

‘Uncle Wayne’ didn’t disappoint me. Of course he’d go, he said. Wayne doesn’t get out much anymore, the old bachelor he is, except to church on Sundays, monthly council meetings, and his daily trips into Wannaska to get his mail. He and I’ve been on a few road trips together these past couple years, the more recent being last year when I drove him to Grand Forks, North Dakota, three times, for medical treatment. We had become comfortable in one another’s company, that, plus the fact we’ve known one another for over 25 years.

Wayne used to live in the same areas of St. Paul that my wife, Jackie, grew up and resided when she sang professionally at the Sherwood Club, and for Sheiks Supper Club as a singer and entertainer, so they share reminiscences of Saint Paul and its surrounding area during the fifties, sixties, and seventies creating a unique element to our friendship. Both Jackie and Wayne are of an age that they similarly have several grown children, in their fifties, and a bunch of grandchildren, all of whom they are proud and close; each following their exploits on Facebook.

I had driven the two miles over to Wayne’s house arriving about 8:30 in the morning. The gun auction didn’t start until ten o’clock, but I wanted to get there before it started just to look things over. It takes an hour to get to Thief River from Palmville--if you drive the speed limit-- and added to the fact we received about an inch and a half of snow on the back of high winds the night before, the roads were liable to be drifted and icy in places and would slow us down.

Wayne was coming out the door as I drove up to his old log house, its windows emblazoned with metal traffic signs and decals reading: “This house protected by Smith & Wesson.” “Prayer is the best way to meet The Lord, trespassing is faster.” “Attention Thieves: Please carry ID so we can notify next of kin.” “Due to the high cost of ammunition, do not expect a warning shot.” His well-used clay pigeon thrower stood idle along the pasture fence in anticipation of its next early morning shooting exercise with the shotgun Wayne keeps loaded just inside the kitchen door. Nearby, on a homemade flagpole, a deteriorated American flag flapped sadly in the wind.

“You need a new flag there, Wayne,” I said, as Wayne opened the car door. He wore his year-around signature cap, jacket, blue jeans, and a pair of pull-on calf-high boots. If he wasn’t eleven years older and I didn’t have a beard and my hair to my shoulders, why we would we’d be confused as twins given our often matching wardrobe as rural fashionistas.

“Yeah, I know. I got a new one in the house,” Wayne said, putting on his seatbelt as we left his yard. “I buy them in bunches of ten. I’ll have to back the pickup up to the flagpole so I can change it out.”

Stopping the car as we got to the highway, I looked both directions for on-coming cars, I said, ”A few years ago, I bought a new flag for somebody, who, for months, flew their flag twenty-four hours a day. It was bleached out and down to half its original size. I put in a plastic bag and tied it to the guy’s mail box. They had changed it out by the next time I drove by.”

I’m not a blindly patriotic individual, nor a veteran, but I do have a fondness for the flag beyond its beauty, furling and unfurling, against a clear blue sky. It symbolizes hundreds of years of American history, both brutal and banal, much of which we haven’t been told nor taught truthfully; yet notably, the flag has been embraced by its different nationalities across country, no matter their cultural history with it.

I’ve listened to a bunch of Wayne’s stories over the years, and although he’s been suspected to stretch the truth now and again, as is said of me, the repeated detail of the majority of the stories I’ve heard in the past almost three decades bear the resemblance of truth and, if anything, it’s on me to remember the facts of each story told several months to years apart. Personally, I think they’re good stories, ones I enjoy hearing again, just like rewatching old movies I’ve seen many times. I think of questions to ask him that I haven’t asked before as the story unfolds, not to qualify its basis in truth, but add to my knowledge or recognition of some event or automobile he owned during his lifetime, his Packards for example.

Wayne told me he has owned 25 cars in his 78 years, Packards being his favorite automobile. He once owned a 1950, 1951, and a 1953. The fifty-three was a Patrician Convertible owned by a Mr. Benape, an old guy who used to come into the gas station where Wayne worked at as a teenager. Mr. Benape had told Wayne he was looking to sell his cars, so Wayne asked him, 
“What would you have to have for your Packard here?”
“Oh, I think two hundred fifty dollars would do it,” Mr. Benape had replied.

Wayne cajoled his mother into loaning him the $250 on a monthly payment deal, and then went over to where Mr. Benape lived off of Summit Avenue, not far from the Saint Paul Cathedral.

Mr. Benape kept his cars in a carriage house in his backyard that was from the Victorian days when wealthy people owned horse-drawn carriages. The other car inside the building was a 1955 Cadillac, which also caught Wayne’s eye.
“What do you want for that one?” Wayne was powerless not to ask.
“Three hundred, I’d think,” Mr. Benape answered, giving Wayne pause. Knowing his mother would nix the deal if he asked for another fifty bucks, he bought the Packard as he planned.

"The year I got married," Wayne added. "I bought a ’54, my last one.  I was driving a Buick at the time and the tranny died right in front of Hetfield-Queenan car lot. I looked up and there sat this big white ’54 Packard, so of course I went in and bought it. Left the Buick sitting right where it was and never saw it again."

I asked Wayne if he had photographs of his Packards, as it isn’t a car whose style readily jumps into my mind’s eye.
“No, I wouldn’t,” Wayne answered. “In the about 25 or more cars I have owned, I only have pictures of 4 of them. Not many of us way back then even owned a camera.”
“Aye,” I said, thinking of an old photo of Wayne that my wife showed me in Facebook, when she had said, “Look at this picture of Wayne by his car. He was pretty good-looking in his younger days.”
“Weren’t we all pretty good-looking in our younger days?” I likely answered, not wishing to allow Wayne, alone, the glory of basking in her stud-muffin description.

“But haven't you put a picture or two of yourself on Facebook, standing by a car?” I said to Wayne, referring to that image, keeping my eyes on the road ahead.“ Huh? Would that have been a Packard?”

“No Packard pictures were ever taken,” he said matter-of-factly, gazing across the miles of snow and ice-covered fields that we passed by, “The picture of me standing by a car was me, by the ‘58 El Camino. I have a picture of my 1938 Studebaker coupe, which was my first car, and several pictures of my 1958 Chevy, a Biscayne. . . and, a picture of my 1951 Chevrolet convertible. I think there are a couple of my International Travelall.”

Wayne’s instant replay inventory of all the photographs of his automobiles seems astonishing. I’ve owned about half as many vehicles, including my two tractors, and I’d have no idea how many photographs I have of any one of them. Maybe that’s because cameras, and especially smart phone photography, have become more available. I’ve maybe taken a hundred thousand images in my lifetime, and wouldn’t be exaggerating, much. If the number of photographs you’ve taken all your life is closer to a hundred or less, perhaps it’s much easier to remember the details.

“The ‘58 was a cashmere blue. It had only 800 miles on it when I rolled it, end for end,” Wayne said, thinking back to the event all those years ago. “I brought the wreck to Hultquist Body Shop, in Gladstone Minnesota, with a picture of a Ford Ranchero, and said, “Make me one of them.”

Ford Ranchero

“Chevrolet didn’t make the El Camino until 1959,” Wayne said, establishing the fact he wasn’t trying to put one over on me. “I had to buy the whole cab from a 1957 GMC semi-tractor to get the rear window and the sheet metal from around it. The end result was beautiful.”   

Wayne's custom-made 1958  'El Camino'

“Yes, it was. Yes, it was.”

Memory, I’m informed by my elder friends and family, doesn’t necessarily improve as a person ages. Any of us know someone who we think is amazing because they can remember things from so years ago --and a few of us are skeptical of their accuracy. I’m at a time in my life in which lately I’ve begun to forget names of my closest friends -- like Wayne’s, for instance.

I attempted to introduce Wayne to one of my cousins, and I completely forgot his name. I looked at him, and at her, and in my sudden embarrassment I almost called him Harlan for some reason.

I hoped Wayne would recognize my dilemma, and just tell her his name instead of letting me stammer around struggling to remember it. My facial expression surely communicated “Help me here, dude!” But he didn’t pick up on it-- and she couldn’t help me. A few seconds passed when, “Wayne”  came to me like a thunderbolt. (‘Geesh, this is only going to get worse,’ I thought.)

Gas prices had begun to soar again, these past weeks. It was $2.74/gallon in Roseau and I was down to a quarter tank of gas. I was going to wait and fill up in Thief River Falls because gas prices are always lower there, but when we drove into ‘Gudd’rudge,’ (Goodridge) I decided that $2.65/gal was ‘less’ enough and pulled to the pumps.

It used to be they would pump your gas for you, but lately,--as the station help has gotten younger and busier on their smartphones--they don’t do that anymore. For the fact that drivers fill their own vehicles elsewhere, ninety-nine percent of the time, I got out to do it myself--and slipped on ice, that I should’ve seen. Luckily, I didn’t fall; I knew it wasn’t summer yet! Icy patches are still lurking in shaded places, and under that canopy, it thrived. I avoided it the next time around like it was a mean bitey dog lying in wait for me.

But eighteen miles away, in Thief River Falls, the sun was shining bright and melt water ran in the gutters. A guy ahead of us walked into the armory in running shorts and a tee-shirt. He was not far behind a gent wearing knee-high black leather cavalry boots, wool pants, wool vest and shirt, a long-tailed beautifully-tailored wool mackinaw, red necktie/scarf, and a wide-brimmed high-crowned felt hat that would make Smoky The Bear smile from ear to ear. Who were these guys? An unlikely crime fighting duo? The entertainment segment of the auction? It’s characters just like these guys who we come to TRF to see, as Roseau is pretty bland in comparison.

The gent, who no one seemed to know, was after the long-barrelled Sharps 45-70, an early 1870s-era black powder rifle that has some serious historical basis in American lore (Okay, and Australian lore too, in the movie Quigley Down Under.) This one looked brand-new, its 30-inch barrel gleaming under the armory lights. I heard the gent say he wouldn’t probably get it, figuring it would fetch a pretty good price at this auction. I guess he was more willing to look the part than purchase yet another expensive detail for his period wardrobe. The gun was sold for a thousand bucks.

Wayne and I lifted different rifles up to peer at model numbers and calibers imprinted on the barrels and receivers. Although that information was printed on the auction flyer and was on-line for weeks before the sale, I never thought to bring it with me; I saw others had. However, we recognized many of guns and discussed the available calibers and different actions, as we did the unique ‘rolling block’ action. Wayne flipped the two individual hammers back using his thumb, and described what each did. He said he had owned a couple of those rifles, purchasing them inexpensively as foreign-issue military arms.

Farther on, we found a new-looking semi-automatic carbine. “‘The Winchester Model 100 semi-automatic,” Wayne said, drifting off in thought. “It seems to me, there had been a problem with it” 

A gun auction is like a candy shop to some wildly anticipatory potential gun owners, but calm, unexcitable, reserved individuals like Wayne and I, hold our enthusiasm well in check as a free public service.

I saw a lever-action Savage with a scope on it that I thought may have been the .300 Savage, my uncle Martin Davidson’s rifle, he took with him to Saskatchewan, on an elk hunt, in 1945. I asked one of his grandsons about it, but he said that it wasn’t. This rifle was a .250-3000.

Martin Davidson, his .300 Savage lever-action rifle, and the elk he shot in Saskatchewan in 1945.

I saw a black powder .50 caliber Hawken carbine, that I drooled over. It is the epitome of a classic black powder deer hunting rifle in my mind. My cousins have volumes of hunting stories shooting black powder guns, and this one was no exception.

“You know, that’s Dad’s match rifle,” Jack’s son, Jared, said to me, pointing the carbine out. “Dad used to dress in a buckskin jacket with fringe, with buckskin leggings and moccasins, and shoot in black powder marksmen contests. You knew that, didn’t you?” When I said I didn’t remember that, he went onto say, “One time we came to Roseau and Uncle Raymond told him there was a shooting contest at the Pioneer Farm. Dad won it.”

After awhile, that memory did come to me, in addition recalling Jack told me that one time he had shot two deer with one shot using his black powder rifle. I doubted that because, although he was an excellent shot and fantastic woodsman, like any Davidson, he wasn’t above spinning a few tall tales.

The family decided to each bid for the guns they wanted, and as a result they had the auctioneer inform the audience that they weren’t to be given priority over their bids, One of my cousins purchased the lever-action ten gauge shotgun that had belonged to her grandpa Martin Davidson, primarily as a historical nostalgia piece. The shotgun was purchased with two others of the same make and model, the same day, by two brothers and a cousin, and all but one of the shotguns are still in the family trove among their descendants.

As I watched the items being auctioned off the auction block table, a cardboard tube about four feet long was shuffled to the side for other considerations, when I asked the auctioneer’s assistant what it was inside it. “It’s a map of The Gulf of Mexico,” he said, pulling it out and unrolling it a little so I could see. “Looks like a nautical map, maybe.”

That, I remembered, although I had never seen it firsthand before. I knew Jack had purchased that map for his sailing trip with Jerry Solom, Palmville’s own ‘Popeye, The Sailor,’ who built his own 38-foot steel sailboat, and sailed it to Norway in 2000, and back in 2008. Jerry is a close friend of mine and lived only a mile away--as the raven flies. I bid on the map and got it for $10. If I had been a little more patient, I might’ve got it for $5 as no one else seemed interested. Oh well. I gave it to Jerry as I knew he is planning another trip across it.

Just as guns hold memories for us, the youth of families do as well, much better than their elders, as is the case of one of two, of my cousin’s kids, whom I usually only see during deer season. As I talked to Angie, one of Jack’s daughters-in-law, her young daughter came over to ask her something and I was again stuck for a name. The girl timidly smiled at me, recognizing me as yet another old codger from deer camp to whom she had been introduced several times over her life, but just can’t make the connection--nor feels the need, when our paths cross so infrequently.

I couldn't remember her name--and I could see by her expression, she knew it. I did remember that she likes to draw, and as art is my forte too, I felt sort of sad that I haven’t made that kind of connection with her, so she could have an ‘AHA!’ moment too--even though she doesn’t remember my name. [We’ll get there, “Mataya.” I asked your Grandma Janet how to spell your name correctly and wrote it down in a notebook I carry, so next time I can say ‘hi’ and use your name.]

 Now, if I can only remember to carry that notebook.


  1. Sounds like a Wayne kind of a day.
    I only have one gun, which is necessary to remain in good standing as a member of the Varmint Hunters Association.

  2. Thanks for sharing Wayne’s metal traffic signs and decals – real winners. May find some myself, being a gun lover, too, and a solitary sort out here among the jacks. (Announce yourself at all times.) So, that’s what your wardrobe is called: rural fashionistas! I’ll have to get me some ‘a dat, too. Your bringing up the El Camino brings back memories of hot times in the back of one in my early youth. And yes, I, too, was pretty good lookin’ in those days. Now I just avoid mirrors and plate glass windows. As for the 1959 date of that car’s manufacture beginnings, I was only 9 years old and not yet familiar with the back-of-vehicle shenanigans. Anywho, I still remember the vehicle which is better than most of what I don’t remember. When it comes to memory loss, the good news is that as memories fade and disappear as we age, we don’t, of course, remember them, so our brain has more space, and as we’ve forgotten so much, we don’t care anyway because we don’t remember and the events are gone because we don’t remember . . . and on and on. The bottom line is it’s like a movie you see for the second time but don’t remember the first time, so we get to enjoy things twice. (Is that circuitous enough for ya?)

    Oh, and thanks for the tour of the guns in your life!


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