Long before Instagram provided the platform for scantily clad women to demonstrate how to balance a SCAR between heaving DD's, there were girls like me. And at best we had Polaroids. The last thing I wanted to do at 15 was highlight the monstrous mounds of flesh on my chest, nor did I want to experience my father's wrath by taking his sidearm to brandish it in a photo.
Call me old fashioned.
While my kid sisters delighted in spending hours perfecting their Farrah-hair, I wrangled the tangle of knots on my head into a semblance of a ponytail. It wasn't pretty. In fact, not much was pretty about me with my uni-brow and red, spotty face lumbering about with thick thighs and big boobs. Awkward and insecure weren't just adjectives, they were largely how I spent my teenage years. But just like Cinderella gets a reprieve and a fancy gown when her godmother shows up, I felt the same way when my dad would bark at me to grab my range bag and suit up.
Riding shotgun in my dad's souped-up Galaxy 500 was liberating as we barreled down sun bleached highways. While my dad dragged on his Kent cigarette and quizzed me like a rookie, his silhouette dulled against the brightening sky that shone in the car's window and served to frame the jagged peaks surrounding the basin that is Las Vegas. Scores of Joshua trees swayed in the perpetual breeze as jack rabbits played chicken with our car. Spoiler alert: Some lost.
When my dad found a good dirt road, he swiftly turned onto it rattling the empty Miller bottles in the backseat we'd use for target practice. Sand swirled like pixie-dust and when it starting settling, my dad was already setting up the hood of the car with his array of handguns along with neatly stacked magazines and speed-loaders. I could hear him count aloud as his boots crunched the rocks to a place where he used discarded lumber to place the array of bottle targets.
It may have seemed an impulsive trip but pops—being a former WWII and Korean War Marine and retired Los Angeles Sheriff's Officer—had meticulously loaded up the trunk in advance with all the gear, ammo, and equipment we could ever possibly need. We had enough to outfit a small army which didn't seem so crazy back in a time when those who crossed “the boys” often ended up in shallow desert graves.
When I was at “the range,” I transformed. I was no longer a clumsy lug. I was elegant and collected. Insecurity was replaced with confidence. I wasn't a girl, I was an eager and quick-to-learn student who respected the tools as well as the training. Between casual discussions on when to use hollow points vs. FMJ, my dad would put me through paces that only now I realize amounted to his version of stress inoculation training. Like a Catholic mass I was up, down, up down, kneel, down, up, kneel, jump. Drenched in sweat and covered in sand, we'd laugh as we broke down our weapons and rendered a quick cleaning before getting home to do it properly. It seemed like minutes but was in fact, hours.
Coming home was always bittersweet for me. I knew moments like this would never be long enough nor would opportunities to capture such memories or my father's insights remain eternal. During these adventures I grew up and realized whatever angst I experienced as a pimply-faced teenager was not only survivable but could be used as a stepping stone to triumph. My dad survived the Depression only to enlist in the Marine Corps at 15 and thereafter find himself in China. In comparison, my youth in the 80s didn't seem so bad even as life handed me more than a few walloping lessons. That helped develop the same tenacious grit I possess today and it all started as a two-year old perched on my dad's turquoise Thunderbird aiming his S&W 9mm.
In an age where emotions tend to reign over reason, I believe young, awkward girls and boys could benefit from spending some time on the range with a seasoned guide. In the best scenarios that instructor is a parent or another family member. I'm not suggesting wild west antics or cavalier grandstanding either. Firearms instruction and its continual application to proficiency is surely a lot of fun and that can be the initial enticement, but its real lesson is the one in respect. In teaching patience and discipline. It's about understanding the difference between sport and survival while being ever mindful to responsibility in all facets of life. It's what took me from being a shy girl into a competent woman and eventually capable mother. It has helped me share our family's history with my own children and start teaching them many of the same lessons.
Why is it that little kids enjoy fairytales like Cinderella? I have to think it's because young people still see all of potential. Life hasn't clobbered out their hope and optimism. Kids are also surprisingly resilient. This means they can be challenged in controlled yet inherently dangerous scenarios because it's in this forge that true discipline becomes the slag to create the life they want. Let's face it, life is like war and those best prepared to survive it are the warriors who learn, adapt, and overcome. It's on the range where individuals will be challenged and disappointed and eventually use that as the foundation for their own personal transformation just like I did.
No, we may not have fairy godmothers, but with a little grace, guidance, and the right equipment, we may very well be able to create our own happily ever after. Maybe even post it on Instagram.