Growing up my dad had some acquaintances that were not so savory. One such man was Gilbert Snead. I don’t think I ever saw the man sober, and he was an obnoxious drunk. Whenever the two of them drank together, it often involved guns and or fights.
My mom, sister, and I were with him one time while they were target practicing. I was probably only about eight or ten years old at the time of this incident. We were down in the bottom by the creek below Gilbert’s house. He dared my father to shoot a beer can off his head. We begged and begged my father not to do it. Drunk and stubborn, he was not about to turn down a dare. Gilbert smugly placed the Pabst Blue Ribbon can on top of his head. My dad lined up across the field like shooting cans off of people’s heads was a daily occurrence and aimed his .22 pistol.
We screamed for Daddy to put the gun away. We just knew he’d kill Gilbert. Not that I liked Gilbert, I just didn’t want my Daddy to be carted off to prison for murder. About the time the shot rang out, Gilbert’s eyes enlarged to about the size of dinner plates, and he fell “lifeless” to the ground. We hollered some more. I’m not really sure that the sounds actually escaped my throat. I was so scared, my knees were knocking and I felt like someone had jerked my stomach right out of my body. We didn’t see blood as we reached Gilbert, and he started to stir. Apparently, Gilbert didn’t really think Daddy would shoot at it, and had fainted. My dad went off to find the beer can. We were mortified. He was quite proud. Yeah, bulls eye…hole dead center on the can. Duh, he knew he wouldn’t miss. After all, he’d been shooting the little gum balls (about the size of a quarter in diameter) off the sycamore trees all day. Gilbert would point to the exact one for Daddy to shoot at, and he’d smither it every time.
In those days, my father was what I would call a rascal. Gilbert was a mean man and really brought out the worst in my father. He talked him into doing things I don’t think he would ever have imagined on his own. He never harmed anyone else. He just took really stupid risks that he would never have attempted had he not been egged on.
I did not witness this incident, but Daddy told me about it. Once, Gilbert was standing in the ditch in front of Daddy’s van so it put him lower than the height of the van. Anyway, he got angry at my father for something and was going to shoot him. My father saw he was cocking his gun, so he aimed between Gilbert’s eyes but about six inches above his head and fired. The bullet pierced the van and shards exploded off the van hitting all along Gilbert’s forehead. It made him so angry he stormed off to his house.
Another time Gilbert came to our house late one night while my sister and I were alone. You have to remember that we lived out in the country and there was no 911 to call for help. And if we had called the Sherriff’s department, it would have taken them no less than thirty minutes to reach our location. Gilbert rolled his old car in our driveway, spitting gravel everywhere. He stumbled out and fell up the steps. He cursed and grumbled and kicked at the door for my father to come outside. We were petrified. He finally went away. After my mom got home, he came back. My mom went out and chased him away with threats. She may have had a gun in her hand, but I don’t remember. I only remember being too afraid to go to sleep that night.
Gilbert was always trying to hurt my father physically by pulling knives or guns on him. Once my dad caught Gilbert stealing from him in the van. I don’t know what he tried to take, but Daddy rammed his head into the dashboard. My father may have been wild and rough around the edges, but above all, he was honest. He worked hard, and did not take what did not belong to him. He expected the same behavior from others. To his knowledge, Gilbert never stole from him again. However, that did not reform him.
I think the final straw that ended the relationship between my father and Gilbert was when he sold my father a gun. Shortly after the purchase, a deputy from the Sherriff’s department showed up at our door to confiscate the gun. Apparently, it was a stolen good. My father handed it over and explained where it came from which they already knew. Bottom line was that my father lost the money he paid for the gun.
Gilbert died many years later. I don’t know whether he ever changed or not. I am glad my father did. Daddy still drank and played his poker for years. One day Daddy picked up a bible and read it. Then, he read it three more times. Daddy then became baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness. I might not agree with the tenets of the religion, but I can honestly say that it has changed my father into a mild and mellow man who would never dream of carrying on the way he had. He’s expressed regrets about his past but he’s made his peace. You may be shaking your head in disbelief at his behavior, but personally, I am proud of the man he has become. My father is a colorful character who is well loved in his community and family. I love him very much, and I wouldn’t trade him or my past for anything. I think that had he been the way he is now, our childhoods would have been vastly different, but I would be no where near the person I am today. The experiences of my childhood shaped me with values and resilience and helped me determine my future.