Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Day I Killed a Frog

The summer I was fourteen, my family went to stay with my Uncle Bill on his place in west Texas. It was a dry, dusty place with no running water, one outhouse, and a well. Mostly there were scattered mesquite trees, cactus, and dirt. Lots of dirt.

Uncle Bill raised a few sheep for their wool. And he had a horse. There was a tumbledown shed he called a barn. And off about a quarter mile away was a pond with scummy water where the animals--wild and tame--would come to drink.

It was hot. Too hot to wander around outside. I was used to going to the park near our apartment in Chicago and sprawling out on a blanket to read beneath a shade tree. With little to see or do, I soon became bored.

One afternoon, my father grabbed Uncle Bill's shotgun and asked me if I would like to learn to shoot it. That perked me up right away so I eagerly followed him out to the pond, anxious to shoot something...anything, as long as I could actually hold the gun.

After a far too extensive overview of all the parts of the shotgun, he finally allowed me to shoot. The first time I ended up on my butt. That didn't stop me. Determined to learn how to use it, I crawled to my feet and went at it again. My initial excitement soon wore off as I wanted something to actually shoot. Just shooting into the pond was boring.

So my father pointed out a prickly-pear and suggested that as a target. I think he was surprised when I hit it...and the branch of the mesquite he pointed to next. He found a couple old bottles I popped on my first try. Oddly enough, I was proving to be an excellent shot.

Then I spied some tiny frogs at the edge of the pond and without much thought, popped one of them. Naturally, it disintegrated in an explosion of frog bits and blood and sand. The little group of frogs had disappeared.

I handed the shotgun to my father and went to look at the carnage. My father propped the gun over his shoulder and said, "Never point at something you don't want to kill."

I walked away, appalled and sick.

On this terrible day of mourning, I look back at that sunny afternoon and think about how I felt and how I learned a never forgotten lesson. It was personal and required an acknowledgement of the deed, the guilt never went away because it was wanton, without reason or need.

I understand hunting for food. I understand target shooting at a range. I understand sanctioned shooting in the military or law enforcement. All of those have their place. But once you take a life, wherever it might be in the scheme of things, you are never the same.