Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Goodbye, Pop

(I've vacillated on whether or not to write this post for several days, and I've finally come down on the side of doing so.)

All three of my Loyal Readers have seen me mention Old Friend, Old Friend's Older Brother and Old Friend's Younger brother. They are some of my shooting buddies and some of my oldest and best friends.

They were infected with the insidious shooting disease by their maternal grandfather, who was always known as Pop. Pop died January 24 of leukemia. He was 88.

He was a product of the Depression, grew up poor, worked all his life, raised a family, and so on. Not a remarkable story; literally millions of his generation did the same.

Nonetheless, Pop was a most remarkable man. I've known two men in my entire life that walked the talk of being a good Christian. Pop was one of them. In his daily life, he simply practiced his faith. He didn't practice what he preached, because he didn't preach. He led by example.

Pop was a gunsmith, though not by trade. He was self-taught, using his innate mechanical ability to do some of the most amazing things with Mauser actions. His specialty was converting them to 22-250 varmit guns. Groundhogs lived in fear of his creations.

Pop also was a handloader. With the large-ring Mausers he favored, he could load the 22-250 as hot as the bullets could take it. One of old friend's favorite Pop stories was going to an old rock quarry one afternoon to shoot some new loads. They were shooting into the wind, and the bullets were literally fragmenting on the way down range.

Now you'd have had to heard Pop speak, in that slow, soft Southern drawl of his, to truly appreciate this. OF says after the third round, Pop sat back from the shooting bench and looked thoughtful. "Well, I guess I loaded those a mite hot. Funny, they didn't do that the other day when the wind was still...."

Pop was a walking reference book on cartridges. Cartridges of the World had nothing on this man. Ask him a question on the most odd-ball thing you'd ever run into, and chance are he could talk to you about it. Then, ever humble, he would tell you to let him check it in his books. As far as I knew, he never got it wrong.

His final evening was spent watching "Winchester 73 " with some of his grandkids, discussing the guns in the movie. The next morning, he awoke with labored breathing, and by 10 AM had passed on to his reward, as gracefully as he had lived his life.

I went to his funeral last Friday, and it was a wonderful celebration of the man. Everyone will miss him, but it's hard to be too sad. He had a wonderful life, rich in every important way. He raised a good family, and lived to see his great-grandchildren. He left behind a legacy that any man could be proud of.

Except he wouldn't be proud. Pride's a sin, remember?

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