In the summer of 1974, I walked out the front door of my early childhood home at 114 South Main Street. I strode that morning with a sense of urgency as I was a man with a mission. The half mile stroll carried me past Maine Central Institute (MCI), the First Baptist Church and the Carnegie Library before crossing the railroad tracks where the sidewalk delivered this Toughskin clad ten-year-old to Bill Varney’s Western Auto in the center of Pittsfield, Maine’s thriving downtown. At last the day had arrived.
Throughout the previous winter, I had risen in the darkness before school to deliver The Waterville Sentinel newspapers to customers along my three-mile route as a paperboy for dollars a day. Dollars earned through my daily toil in the bitter cold and snow that winter were dedicated to the purchase of my first firearm and I had saved them jealously. The effort I had expended in securing the $35 dollars necessary to buy a used Marlin Model 122, single shot .22 only elevated the glory of that initial purchase, a rite of passage in the Mosher Family’s generations of outdoorsmen and hunters.
Mr. Varney smiled as I walked through the door with his thin grey beard and placed my new, used rifle into a case. I knew Bill Varney well as he had been a Cub Scout leader and the instructor of my mandatory NRA Hunter Safety Course (then required to acquire a hunting license at age 10). Mr. Varney then handed me a box of .22 rim fire hollow point cartridges and I handed him my $35.00 in cash. Beaming with pride, I exited the store and returned to my home carrying the cased rifle and ammunition, a new man at ten years old. Remarkably, it never occurred to me to use this potentially lethal instrument to murder my peers, my family or any other innocents in my community.
Given the ongoing debate on the state of our country with respect to the murderous ravages of our schools and other “safe zones,” we must address the intellectually lazy viewpoint of those fixated on the instrument of this despair (gun control advocates) vice a true examination of the true contributing factors of “gun violence” prevalent in our modern society.
My walk on that morning in June of 1974 reveals all that we need to know about exactly why our young people are becoming capable of previously unspeakable savagery, despite 44 years of societal evolution.
First, I was a typical Maine school boy; at best average. Many, if not most, of kids my age had jobs at ages 8-10 to EARN money for the special things they wanted to buy. The true yield in this common practice, be it paper routes, lawn mowing or haying and other manual labor jobs was the building of work ethic, accountability and self-responsibility.
The fact that I was able to actually walk alone from my home presents a certain novelty compared to modern era children, who find themselves shuttled by adults to school, practice, clubs, the mall…. everywhere. My walk to Western Auto was an extension of the majority of my day as unsupervised; usually running from yard to yard all day with my friends coming home only for meals or at dark. This practice has been replaced by adult supervised activities and mandatory fun or sedentary lifestyles in front of a video monitor pacifier playing Grand Theft Auto or other repetitious, graphically violent games, which slowly erode their connection to both life and humanity.
My walk that morning carried me past a school that had been established in 1866 and a church that shared the same longevity as cornerstones of our community. I would later graduate and teach at MCI and the church remained a staple of my family’s faith. The library was likewise fundamental to our community as a center of activity for Pittsfield and our repository for both knowledge and research in the era before digital data. I liked it there. It was quiet and smelled old and musty, like the floorboards of Berry’s Pharmacy just down the street. There was a continuity to it that I recognized even as a child.
Finally, before you dismiss this entry as mere nostalgia, understand that we have the power to reclaim that which has been discarded in our society as the fabric of a real approach to reducing the incidents of sociopathic, homicidal tragedies. Our fore bearers told us that a society that forfeits liberty for security, deserves neither. We can look at the volumes of “common sense” gun control laws currently inflicted upon our law-abiding citizens as completely ineffective in ironically the most violent communities in our country.
Instead of addressing the hard issues that bring despair and destruction to nearly every aspect of our society, we instead seek the pen stroke, albeit impotent band aid of “legislated morality” to cover the festering wounds of neglect, narcissism and division at the expense of a fatherless generation of disenfranchised young men.
I will close by giving thanks to my father, uncles, teachers, coaches and mentors such as Bill Varney for delivering the life lessons necessary to safely buy my first firearm and use it responsibly at age 10. In their honor, I have done my best to carry on this tradition to my own children and we are happier as a family for that tradition.