If looks could
kill, my father's would have dropped him in his tracks. "Don't pay any
attention to him, Mister," my father told the trick-shot artist.
"Now don't be
bashful," the visitor said, and he put his rifle in my father's hands. My
father looked about as awkward and uncomfortable as he did when obliged to hold
a baby. Fetching a sigh, he said, "Well, have you got a half-dollar on you?
One that you won't mind if you lose, maybe?"
artist produced a half-dollar. My father regarded it, shook his head and said,
"Shame to waste a whole half-dollar in times like these." He handed it
back to the man. "Give me just a quarter instead," he said.
My father laid
the rifle on the ground. Beside it he laid the coin. He straightened and looked
up. Everybody looked up. There was nothing in the sky to see—what was my father
shaking his head over? His face bore the pained expression of a man certain
that he was about to make a public fool of himself.
next, following upon my father's reluctance and slowness, went so fast it was
hard to follow. He knelt, picked up the coin and spun it high in the air,
picked up the rifle and threw it to his shoulder as he rose to his feet, fired;
there was an audible ping and the coin disappeared. My father lowered the
rifle. His was the most dubious-looking face present.
"Can you do
that every time?" the trick-shot artist asked.
it," said my father, and did it twice more.
trick to it that makes it easier than it looks," he told me afterward.
"Now, nobody could hit something that small with a rifle-ball while it's
moving. So you wait for it to stop moving. There is a second when it gets as
high as it's going to go and before it starts to fall, when it just hangs
there. That's your moment. Shoot then and you're shooting at a still target.
That's the trick." Which has always seemed to me a little like Bach's
saying that there was nothing to mastering the keyboard: all you had to do was
strike the right note at the right time and the instrument played itself.
artist stayed overnight in Clarksville and the next morning came to our
"What do you
do for a living?" he asked my father, and without waiting for an answer
said, "Whatever it is, you're wasting your time. Quit. Resign. Sell out.
Come with me. Here you're hiding your light under a bushel."