It is 20 degrees. I am in southern Connecticut for the weekend visiting Mom and Dad as are my sister and brother-in-law. Mom and Dad think it’s a social visit. We don’t let them know that we’re here to try to find a loaded revolver in the backyard.
As the sun rises, the three of us meet in the kitchen in our hats, scarves, boots and heavy coats. I carefully slip the key into the bolt lock of the back door and turn it, making minimal noise hoping not to wake Mom and Dad. Dad’s not that much of a concern. At age 83 he’s lost most of his hearing and takes his hearing aid out at night. Mom’s another story. She’s always been a light sleeper. We manage to get out the door without stirring either of them.
Our boots make light crunching sounds as we slice through the layer of icy snow in the backyard. I decide to peel off and check things out in the carport. Sylvia and Aron head for the shed at the far end of the yard.
The carport is a reflection of Dad’s frailty and gradually deepening dementia. It’s one of his recent “home improvements.” Made out of scrap wood, it’s an eyesore, reminding me of the shacks and lean-to’s that dotted the hills of the farming village in Virginia where Dad grew up in 1930s and ‘40s. Their SUV barely fits, allowing about an inch of clearance for the roof. If Dad ran over a large enough pebble in the driveway, he’d be looking at getting a new paint job for the vehicle.
If you didn’t park just right, getting out of the drivers’ side would require the skill of a contortionist. To avoid banging the doors into support beams meant slithering out.
I squeeze past a three foot by five-foot bow window propped up on a slab of wood in front of the SUV. The living room of Mom and Dad’s Cape Cod-style house has a bay window and it’s in good condition. However, Dad said he felt a bow window would be an improvement. It’s been sitting in the driveway for three years.
Behind the bow window, fixtures from the clothing store Mom and Dad owned and operated for 40 years populate the rest of the driveway—a circular rack that once held dozens of pairs of men’s bell bottoms, plastic male mannequin legs that showcased slacks in the store’s display window, a large black cabinet where platform shoes were displayed.
Inside the drawers of the cabinet, they kept overstock—gabardine sweaters, wide neckties, bottles of musk cologne, cufflinks.
Now, as I yank open the top drawer, my fingertips burning from the cold, somewhere between 40 and 50 rusted doorknobs roll around like marbles. They are the supply Dad drew from to replace knobs at the rental properties they used to own.
I pull open the bottom drawer to discover Dad’s yellowed copies of the Connecticut and New York City newspapers from 1963 with screaming headlines in giant font announcing the assassination of John. F. Kennedy.
“These are collector items,” Dad had said in recent months, a gleam in his eyes as he held the “extra” editions in his fist. “They’ll be worth something someday.”
Not finding the revolver, I head in the direction of the makeshift shed Dad had built at the far end of the backyard to store additional fixtures, paperwork and clothing stock—inventory he couldn’t part with once the business closed down. Mom had Dad make room for toys my niece and nephew played with when they were little. When I walk in I find Sylvia and Aron frantically rifling through papers, emptying shoeboxes, yanking open file cabinet drawers, stepping over detritus, pushing aside mannequins and tie racks.
“Your father’s got a gun in the shed.” Mom let this remark slip out during a phone conversation I had with her as I was about to leave the office and head home one day.
"He pulled it out once and pointed it in the distance and told me, 'if anyone breaks into the house, just pull the trigger.' Then he put the gun away.” But I'm not gonna use it." Her voice became shrill as it often did when she became emotional. "I wouldn't go near that thing. I wouldn’t even look at it."
I was having a hard time absorbing what she was saying. I couldn’t fathom my father having a gun after all these years nor giving my mother a DIY firearms lesson.
“Are you saying that there’s a loaded gun in the shed?” I could hear my own voice becoming shrill.
A pregnant pause.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m not gonna use it. I’m not gonna touch it.”
I had a flashback to a day in the early 1970s when the clothing store had only been in operation a few years. I was at the store after school when I noticed a revolver on a shelf below the cash register. I was afraid to touch it or even look at it after that. My mother said my father had it there for protection. Could that be the very same gun in Mom and Dad’s backyard all these years later?
“So exactly where is it in the shed, Mom?”
“Oh, I shouldn’t have said anything. I shouldn’t have told you. Maybe it’s not in the shed. Maybe your father moved it somewhere else. And stop worrying. I shouldn’t have told you.”
I continued to push for more details. My mother continued to retreat.
I sent an urgent text to my sister. She texted back immediately. She said that on a visit months earlier my 13-year-old niece had been playing in the shed. She’d discovered an old dollhouse of hers there and was in there for a good hour. We agreed to meet in Connecticut, find the gun and dispose of it.
Sylvia and Aron’s search comes up with nothing. I decide to retrace their search in case they missed something. They did. I find the revolver in the top drawer of a file cabinet under a pile of papers. All those detective shows I watched growing up pay off. I pull my winter gloves out of my coat pocket and put them on before handling the gun to make sure I don’t leave prints.
In preparation for our “reunion” visit to Mom and Dad I’d ordered a gun case. It is cushioned inside and holds the gun in place and has a combination lock to secure it even further. The three of us look at each other, not knowing what next step to take. If we call the police they might come armed and ready to shoot. We’d read too many stories in the media about African Americans wrongfully shot by police or brutally injured. Also, they might arrest us or Dad. Maybe not since he’s in his 80s, but we don’t know. We don’t want to drive it to the police station. What if we get stopped for a broken taillight or passing into a lane without signaling? They’d inspect the car and we’d be arrested.
We decide to dump the case in the bottom of the general trash barrel behind the shed, figuring that midweek on trash day Dad will pull the barrel to the curb. It will end up in the city dump and that will be the end of it. The three of us pull trash out of the recycling trash barrel and pile it on top of the gun case. We close the lid and head back into the house to decompress.
About a week and a half later I call Mom before I leave work and casually weave the trash pickup into the conversation, asking if Dad pulled the barrels in front of the house.
“Your father says the cans are too heavy.”
My heart drops into my stomach. “He says what?”
“They’re too full. They’re too heavy for him to pull out front.”
I do all I can to keep my voice measured.
“What’s he going to do?”
“I don’t know. That’s up to him.”
We are quiet for a while. Then she continues. “There’s a man down the street who helps out sometimes. Maybe we can get him to pull them around.”
I say a silent prayer that he’s willing to do it.
“Yes, Mom. That’s a good idea. A real good idea.”
Lisa Braxton is the author of the novel, The Talking Drum, winner of a 2021 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards Gold Medal, overall winner of Shelf Unbound book review magazine’s 2020 Independently Published Book Award, winner of a 2020 Outstanding Literary Award from the National Association of Black Journalists, and a Finalist for the International Book Awards. In addition to being a novelist, she is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, an essayist, and short story writer.