PART ONE: ACQUISITION
I never really grew up around firearms. Even though they were a part of my Dad’s upbringing in rural Virginia and West Virginia, as a means of helping feed their family of five, following the practices of generations of Appalachian families, he never once took me nor my brother hunting.
I think my mother was partially responsible for that. She lived a more refined, “civilized,” life as the daughter of a J.C. Penney store manager, and in the urbane calculus of life within city limits, guns didn’t factor in for her.
When they got married, and started having children, I think he yielded his views and experiences of raising sons to that of his wife. And so it went for 13 years.
Granddad tried remedying that, giving me and my brother BB guns when we each turned 10. Mom may have had some objections, but I think she and Dad reached a compromise that we could keep the guns, just keep the BBs separate, and we would shoot them only under supervision. It was there that I learned the basics of marksmanship.
However, when Granddad died, Dad took us to visit Grandmother in the interests of helping sort through Granddad’s stuff in preparation for her moving out of the house to a retirement complex in North Carolina. During that visit, some of Dad’s rural upbringing manifested itself. It started with finding an old, break-open .22-caliber squirrel hunting rifle in the garage. He checked it, cleaned it, found a box of cartridges, and headed to the fields behind the house.
He came back with a squirrel, which he cleaned and helped Mom cook. Being more interested in writing something on Granddad’s old typewriter in the basement, I missed the carnage. But my brother relayed how he witnessed a side of Dad he had never seen before, taking the squirrel’s tongue and eating it. Or, more brutal still, how Dad used a fork to pierce the squirrel’s skull and dug the brains out to eat those, too.
That trip, Dad took home that rifle, and a few other of Granddad’s guns, too, including a .45-caliber Colt 1911.
I discovered the pistol when I was in middle school. I came home from school, finished my homework, got a little bored, and decided to do some exploring around the house. In the foyer closet, top shelf, I discovered it, secured in an old, brown leather U.S. Army chest holster.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. My Dad owns something as cool as a .45? I pulled it out, felt the weight, posed with it in front of a mirror, and put it back as close to the way I had found it. I didn’t try to manipulate it, much less shoot it, for I knew that would get me in a heap of trouble with Dad.
He found out about it, though, thanks to the fingerprints I left on the slide. With it followed a stern warning to leave it alone, which I occasionally disobeyed. It was just too cool to be left completely alone. Plus, there was the thrill of doing something against parental wishes and getting away with it. Still, I respected the gun, and didn’t want to injure myself nor others, nor damage anything, lest I be subjected to another round of groundings that seemed to be all too commonplace when I was in seventh and eighth grade. So, I never mentioned it to my friends, never tried to take it out and show it off whenever friends came over, much less bring it to school to show off to friends there.
When we moved to a new house in North Carolina in the mid-1980s, Dad found a new hiding place for the 1911, and I never saw it again for about a quarter century. In the time in between, I had become a gun owner in my own right, and was already active in educating myself about them, and advocating for gun rights. During a cruise with my folks through Alaska’s Inside Passage, Dad & I learned about a firearms museum in Ketchikan, and went to have a look. It covered just about every era of American firearms technology, going from muskets to Gatling’s hand-cranked multi-barrel repeater.
Also featured, under display case glass, was a 1911.
“Hey, Dad,” I pointed out, “You’ve got a 1911A1, right?”
“Nope,” he corrected. “It’s an original 1911, not an A1.”
On another trip to North Carolina, I brought a couple of handguns with me, both to navigate the procedures in flying with guns, and hopefully, take them to a local gun range with Dad (or my brother) and enjoy an afternoon shooting.
I never did find a range, but Dad brought out the guns he had gotten from Granddad. Two in particular caught my attention: a 1903A3 Springfield bolt-action rifle, and the 1911. Being more familiar with handguns, I inspected the 1911. The slide was very stiff, and it looked like it might be a little rusty on the inside.
But regardless, I knew I wanted to own that handgun someday.
That day came, 12 years too soon, when my Dad passed away. I returned to Alaska a week after the memorial service with a couple of mementos. The 1911 was among them, coming home with the third Hatfield to own it.
During my visit, I had field-stripped it, to see what sort of condition it was in. The slide was still stiff, the insides seemed to be coated with some gummed up oil or grease. It looked like it might take some work to make it a functional firearm again.
And that is what I determined: to make Granddad’s gun useable as a defensive sidearm again. I texted a friend of mine back in Alaska who was a gunsmith, to see if he worked with 1911s. He did, and would love to look at it, but he, also, was Outside, and wouldn’t be back until later in the month. Which was good. It would give me plenty of time to learn more about this particular pistol and the options I’d have to make it serviceable.