The Hapgood and I

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She sits there and watches me as I think about her, like some ancient Muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention. To me, she is a silent litany of mysteries, questions she can never answer and I will never know. And I think I prefer her that way.

She admits being a Hapgood — one of the Boston Hapgoods, a shapely bunch — but she came to me from North Carolina. She’s old, her dark skin cold against my cheek, and I wonder how many cheeks she had pressed against hers in her long life.

Did she ever travel west of the Appalachians? Was the dust of the West brushed from her when our West really was, before it became just another character in a television script, where clean-shaven and well-pressed men never are seen traveling on the trail with one like her. I know the real men of the West did, though. In 1850 they almost all did.

I’m sure she provided for her family, helping bring food to their table, because I can still smell the sulfur on her breath, even after all these years. She still will click back her hammer to half- and full-cock, exposing the nipple that suckled brassy cups of fire in a time before my United States of America went from a plural “are” to a singular “is.”

Did she protect her people from harm? Did she ever spit blind, unfeeling death in anger while in the arms of her man, maybe at another Yankee like her? I hope she never pointed her long brown finger at someone in dusty blue, or at a painted American in red. Even so, that’s why I call her she: Capable of taking care of her family and willing to fight—hard—to do so. I’ve known mothers like that. I sincerely hope she didn’t.

Her silence is probably for the best, though. I know she had no say upon whose arm she rested, how they used her, how they abused her. One of them eventually broke her forearm right where my hand holds her today. Those were rough times.

I’m told she could probably still do what she was brought into this world to do over a century and a half ago. But she’ll never do it while she’s mine. Now she sits and inspires me to think of other years, of other men, of their families and farms. To me, she represents a time when our flags flew fewer stars, when our nights were darker and seemingly flew many more stars than I can see from my porch tonight.

I’m going to find her a simple and elegant place to rest the remainder of our days together. But she’ll never be far from my reach, because to look all the way down to that little bead at the end of her barrel is to look back almost two centuries, to glimpse stories I’ve yet to know from times I’ve never seen, stories the Haploid, in her silent way, will tell me and then we’ll tell others.

I’m by no means a gun guy. Never was. I am an American history guy, one who often writes of those times when this nation still had a frontier. I purchased my antique Hapgood rifle (Maybe it’s a fowler, I don’t know. See? Not a true gun guy.) as a piece of Americana to help inspire my historical fiction. It gives me something palpable from those times to hold, to infuse me with imaginings of what I hope become fictive reality. I wrote this essay last December, as much to spell this out for myself as for anyone else. I needed an explanation for why I — of all people — would own such a device. Simple. To me, the Hapgood is a piece of history I can hold in my hands. This country’s history. Our history. Nothing more.

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