"Big Daddy's Shotgun" by Neal Murphy

March 12, 2018 - If there was one thing that my grandfather hated, it was armadillos. He never saw one of those pre-historic looking animals with body armor that he could stand. They not only rooted holes in his pristine sandy yard, they kept him awake at night.

In East Texas, armadillos are quite common. And they seem to be oblivious to humans, and they are seldom successful in crossing the highway. I have heard that the reason the chicken crossed the road was to prove to armadillos everywhere that it could be done. But, they are good at getting under houses and causing a noise. As the armadillo wandered underneath his house at night, the hard shell would bump against a beam, and that “bump” noise irritated Felix Murphy, affectionately known as “Big Daddy” to us grandkids.

Big Daddy kept an old .12 gauge double barrel shotgun under his bed so that he could quickly arm himself when the armadillos were active around or under his house. He sent many an armadillo into the next world with a well-placed shotgun blast.

As a ten year old boy in the mid forties, I was impressed with that shotgun, though I thought I would never get to shoot it. However, unexpected opportunities do arise on occasion.

One sunny, summer afternoon, I walked the fifty yards from my home to my grandfather’s house to see what my grandmother, Mary, might have in a bowl on her old cook stove. She usually had a fresh batch of sugar cane syrup cookies, or sugar cookies in a bowl just waiting for me. On this day, I walked through the old house but found no one home, and no cookies. What a water haul, I thought to myself as I started back to the front door. Then I spied that shotgun in the corner of the living room.

A voice told me now is the time to shoot the gun! Should I ? Could I ? I walked over to the old blunderbuss and checked for shells. Yes, it was loaded with two shells ready for the next armadillo victim. I double-checked the house to make sure no one was home……….it was empty. So, I picked up the shotgun and walked out the back door on to the porch. I sat down and pondered the advantages and disadvantages of shooting. To a ten year old boy, there appeared to be no disadvantages. 

I decided it was now or never, as this opportunity might never present itself again. So, summoning up my courage, I put the gun up to my right shoulder, held it tight, aimed at a large tree about 35 feet away, and squeezed the triggers. That’s right, I did not realize that the gun had two triggers, one for each barrel. And, I had squeezed both at the same time !

The noise was deafening. However, the kick was much worse. With both shells going off at once, the gun generated the kick of a mule on steroids. I remember being pushed back into the screen door, falling back into the room on my bottom, my shoulder almost numb. I sat there for several minutes trying to gain my composure, and rubbing my aching shoulder and bottom.

Retreat seemed a good option at this point. I pulled myself up by the door jam, put the shotgun back in the corner, and headed north to my house, nursing my injuries. I was healed by morning.

I never told Big Daddy what I had done with his old .12 gauge. Somehow, I think he probably knew instinctively when he aimed at another armadillo and nothing happened. Spent shells are not good for much. He would probably have gotten a good laugh out of my episode had he known. At the time, it was not funny, but as I look back over the years I recall the incident seeing only the humor in it.

My father inherited that old shotgun, and after my father died in 1991, I inherited it. As I held it once again after so many years, the incident flooded my memory. I finally parted with that shotgun - I gave it to my son to save as a treasure from the past. Unfortunately, my son does not have a son to pass it along to, so I do not know what will happen to it in the future. But, it has a good home for a long time to come. May it rest in peace.