Devin was born in Charleston, West Virginia. She was raised in a farm house in a little town called Liberty. At the age of eleven years, she moved to Sarasota, Florida, with her mother and stepfather. A decade passed before she returned to her hometown in West Virginia.
Devin has decided to attend Marshall University to obtain her Regent’s Bachelor of Arts degree and then further that with an MBA. She works with her father in his business, Don’s Plumbing, Heating & Air. She is a single mother to a beautiful daughter named Lauren. They live in a small town in rural West Virginia with their two dogs, Foxy and Molly.
In her essay, Devin explores how her life in Liberty influenced her lifelong passion for shooting guns. I especially am grateful to Devin for her willingness to write openly about something many people outside of West Virginia do not understand: A cultural significance to firearms that is both family-oriented and in many ways nonviolent. There are different takes on the role of guns in society, and Devin’s honest evaluation of the strength, family history, and parental connection she inherited from having guns in her childhood will be an eye-opener for many.
A Girl with a Gun
My ears are ringing; the smell of gunpowder lingers in the air. It’s a beautiful fall day and there’s a nice chill in the air. I anxiously await the results of my shot. Dad trudges up the hill to the giant log we use to line the cans up for target practice. “Nice shot!” he says in his slow, deep voice. A smile spreads across my face. I notice he’s smiling as well on his walk back to the porch. He climbs the porch steps with ease using his long legs from his six-foot frame. His huge hand comes down to gently pat my back for a job well done.
I have Dad’s approval and that is all my little childhood self needs.
We must have been a sight on that porch, Dad standing tall, towering over me, and me gazing up towards the sky to look into his big brown eyes. I often had trouble keeping up with him when we were walking together. My little legs would be at a dead run to keep up the pace. When holding hands, his hand would engulf my tiny one, and most of the time I would simply hold onto his fingers. Dad is part Native American and definitely looks the part. He has dark brown hair, dark brown eyes and is somewhat dark skinned. I inherited the dark brown hair and olive skin from him and I often wore my hair in pigtail braids (a.k.a. Indian braids) as a child.
I was introduced to guns literally the day I was brought home from the hospital. Dad took a picture of me lying on a bed next to a pair of binoculars and a rifle. This photograph is now in a small frame on my bookshelf. I realize now that this image might be quite scary to some people, this small infant girl lying near a firearm. It was definitely normal in our household, however, and guns were not anything to fear. They were simply an extension of who we were and part of how we lived, almost like family.
We used guns for both pleasure and survival. We enjoyed shooting guns for target practice and to set-up contests to see who could make the best shots . We used guns to go out into our property to hunt animals so that we would have food on the table during both good and bad times. There was no question about whether I would learn how to use a firearm when I was born. Whether I was a girl or boy, it was happening. Dad definitely wanted a boy. I mean what father doesn’t want a son? Right from the start, I had a lot of proving myself to do for Dad. Thankfully, I didn’t mind becoming a tomboy.
By five years old, I’d become quite the marksman. My trusty .22 rifle didn’t have much of a kick to it, which is how I was able to fire off a precise shot. The fact that we spent most evenings on the front porch practicing also helped. One of the joys of living on ninety-plus acres is that you don’t have to worry about your neighbors complaining. The only ones bothered by our gunshots were the animals in the woods wondering if the shots were intended for them.
Liberty is located in Putnam County, West Virginia, and definitely is considered rural. We lived on nearly one hundred acres of which about two were cleared off for the house seat. The rest of the property was woods. The old farm house, where grandfather grew up, was located on the right side of the cleared property. On the left side, he built a new house for his wife and kids upon moving them back here from Manassas, Virginia. The old rutted driveway split the property. We moved into the house after Grandpa died and Grandma moved away. The road to our house was a gravel road barely big enough for one car. Our nearest neighbor was about a mile down the road.
Ranson’s General Store was on the corner of the street by the post office. Mom and I often walked down to the store during the day to visit with Mr. & Mrs. Ranson and to pick up any necessities . It was a small store similar to the ones you see in older movies. They sold the basics such as bread, milk and canned goods. I can still hear the ringing of the bell over the old wooden door with the glass panels when you would enter. Every time we went in to pick up something, I came out of the store with some sort of candy. Naturally, I loved visiting that little general store! There was an elementary school at the top of the hill off the main road. I attended school there briefly for first grade. The school was so small, they combined the classes there. Kindergarten was on its own, first and second grade were together, and third, fourth, and fifth grade were combined. Dad used to drop me off there around 6:00 AM on his way to work. The cooks would unlock the doors for us and allow me to help them prepare breakfast in the kitchen before school started. There was nothing else in Liberty except beautiful hills, friendly people, and the smell of fresh air. It truly resembled Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show, or even some places from Little House on the Prairie.
I spent most days playing outside from morning until dark. I had a swingset, a loyal dog named Ginger, and not much more but wide open space and a wild imagination. Ginger was my sidekick. My aunt Libby found her abandoned behind a 7-11 store. She knew we had plenty of room for her to roam, so she gave Ginger to us. We found out that Ginger was part German Shepherd and part wolf. She was an interesting mix of animal for sure! I would sit up late at night and watch her howl at the moon from my window. Most of the time she stayed near my window at night to guard me. I truly believe she felt I was one of her cubs from the pack. She never let me out of her sight and even made sure I stayed within my boundaries while playing in the yard. When we took walks in the woods together, she would gently pull on my clothes to put me back on track when I wondered off the trail.
Our yard was so big to my childhood eyes that when I stood at the edge of the woods, the house seemed miles away. Mom would often pack sandwiches, Kool-Aid, and snacks in my blue Tupperware picnic set and send me out for the day. I would spread out my food under the big tree and share my lunch with Ginger, and then we would set off on an adventure created in my mind. One day we were hunting giant deer, the next we were spies. I kept myself occupied in my imaginary world until Dad got home from work.
Then it was time for guns!
I became fascinated with guns at an early age. Dad had TONS of them! There was an entire room filled with them in our house. I was never allowed to go in that room or to touch a firearm unless he was there. Of course, I always wanted to sneak in that room to marvel at all the beautiful guns. There were so many different types of guns and each one was beautiful in its own way. There was the .22 rifle which was one of my favorites. It had a sleek, single, black barrel and the wooden butt of the gun was worn from many years of use. It seemed to fit like a glove when pulling it up to aim. I was always responsible with guns. Gun safety was crucial. Every time we handled a gun, Dad spoke of safety and showed me how it’s done. If there was ever a time I was unsafe with a gun, I knew there would be consequences, the most severe being that I would no longer be allowed to handle the guns.
Dad had quite the collection of guns, which combined the newest models with old ones that had been handed down through the generations. There’s a story behind each and every one of those guns and he’s happy to tell you those stories. Some are funny, some are bittersweet. I love to listen to them time and time again. One of my favorites is the .357 pistol which was handed down to him from his father. That gun was one of Grandpa’s favorites and he often carried it for protection when they lived in Manassas, Virginia. They lived in the inner city there and often dealt with people that weren’t the best. I’m sure there have been many times that gun gave him a feeling of safety like nothing anyone can imagine. Dad has it now and I’m sure every time he looks at it, he is reminded of Grandpa and how he would do anything to protect his family, just like Dad has always done anything needed to protect his own family. That collection has grown over the years and he still loves to tell those stories. Every time we are together, we always seem to make our way back to those guns.
These days I don’t have much time to spend with guns. Other things always seem to get in the way. However, my love for shooting has never faltered. To me, there is nothing better than holding that cold metal in your hands and feeling the power released by pulling the trigger. The sound, the smell, the end result of seeing your bullet hit the target is all so amazingly beautiful. Each and every time I am able to go out and shoot, I am reminded of my childhood days. The memories come rushing back to me: I can smell the sweet mountain air of Liberty, West Virginia. I can see Ginger lying on the porch watching us. I feel the happiness of childhood.
Once again, I’m that little girl standing on the wooden porch at the house in Liberty waiting for Dad’s approval on my shot.