Anyone who has raised children knows the three standard answers your offspring will come up with in response to almost any question:
1. I didn't do it.
2. He did it first.
3. That? That's been in the toy box a long time.
The third answer is a corollary of the first two, and is used by children of all ages. This includes my wife, The Doc, who I suspect uses the line on me regularly when I suddenly notice a new piece of jewelry.
"This ring/necklace/earrings? Don't you remember? You gave me these years ago. They've been in the jewelry box a long time."
I don't really care if she buys the stuff, I would just prefer to accrue the benefit that comes from actually giving her the jewelry—it being a well-known fact that jewelry is technically known as 'female Viagra'. Besides, I have my own toy box, the gun safe, and I am fairly sure that everything in it looks identical to my wife. As I write this, I am suffering a little rifle envy after a friend purchased a very nice vintage buffalo gun. I don't have a buffalo gun, and in case of attack by a rampaging herd of bison, how can I be sure my neighbor will protect me? It would seem only prudent to have the means at hand to protect my family.
Cleaning the guns in the safe (and planning where to put a rifle that will soon have been there a long time), I came across a rifle that I had almost forgotten about--a Remington Nylon 66. I have an excuse for forgetting about it, it's not my rifle. It belongs to The Doc, and it has indeed been in the safe a long time.
Back when Nixon was still in his first term, we were dating, and I decided to teach my girlfriend how to shoot a rifle. At the time, I owned nothing of a small enough caliber suitable for a neophyte, and since she had an approaching birthday, I decided to gift her with a new .22 rifle. Giving your girlfriend a rifle is the perfect gift, as not only does it give you an excuse to take her to the gun range, but you get to shoot it, too.
It turned out The Doc is a pretty good shot. She had no preconceived ideas of how to shoot, so when I told her not to flinch and to keep both eyes open, she did. it was a little disconcerting that she learned to shoot that well, that quickly.
Target practice used to be cheap: for most of my life, shooting a .22 cost only pennies since a box of fifty rounds always cost less than a six pack of Cokes. For some reason, in the last ten years, the price has become exorbitant. It now costs roughly a six pack of beer; this is the true measure of inflation.
Purchasing the rifle was easy since I worked for Peden Iron and Steel, a hardware distributor, and we sold the rifles wholesale to stores across Texas. As an employee, I was able to buy the rifle at a discount, 10% less than the wholesale price. If I remember correctly, if cost me $34.00. It was a Remington Nylon 66, the first mass produced rifle with a nylon stock and receiver. Remington had something of schizophrenic moment, calling the material, "Zytel" even as they admitted the true identity of the material in the gun's name.
Note. When I told my sons, What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One, how little I had paid for the rifle, they immediately demanded to know why I had not purchased many, many more such bargains. Just as fast, I thought of the time my father had pointed out a former meadow in San Antonio where a huge mall was located. Then he explained that when he had been stationed in San Antonio during WWII, he could have bought the entire meadow for fifty cents an acre.
“Why didn’t you?” I demanded.
“Hell, son. I didn’t even know somebody with fifty cents.”
Introduced back in 1959, the semi-automatic rifle held 14 rounds, and supposedly had bearings that needed no lubrication. And though I have never tested it, supposedly the rifle floats barrel up if dropped in water. Making guns out of "plastic" was a risk for Remington, but it proved successful. The gun worked well, but at first, the market was a little hesitant. Shooters were used to wooden stocks, and somehow a "plastic gun" just didn't seem right. Remember, this was before the M-16 or Glocks became commonplace.
Firearm companies have a long history of hiring shootists to help market guns. Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank Butler, endorsed the Union Metallic Cartridge Company (destined after a merger to be known as Remington). The Texan, Adolf Toepperwein—perhaps the greatest trick shot artist in history—worked for Winchester and set a record that lasted for over fifty years. In December, 1907, at the San Antonio Fair, out of 72,500 hand tossed 2 1/4" wooden blocks and at a distance of 30 feet, Toepperwein missed only nine. He might have shot more, but he had exhausted the town's supply of ammunition. (He also exhausted his supply of block-tosses!)
In 1959, Tom Frye worked for Remington, and was looking for a way to publicize the reliability of the Nylon 66. Using three rifles over 13 consecutive days, Frye shot at 100,010 hand-tossed blocks--an average of 1,000 shots an hour (or a shot every four seconds). As the smoke cleared, and everyone's ears stopped ringing, it was seen that Frye had missed only six times. Though the three guns had been cleaned only five times each during the ordeal, there were no malfunctions.
Suddenly, Remington could not manufacture the rifles fast enough. Over their 30-year run, slightly more than a million of them were sold, including (of course) the one that I gave to The Doc.
It was easy to forget the rifle standing quietly in the back corner of the gun safe, since it is still in the rather nondescript box it originally came in. About the only thing distinctive is the small wooden block, with a small hole in it, that came with it. The first 100,004 purchasers of the rifle got proof of the gun's reliability. I have no idea what the other 900,000 owners got in their boxes. I bet they paid more, too.