Guns, Rods And Roses


Garry Bowers | January 4, 2022

People who look back on their high school days as the greatest time of their lives are the same people who say “No, officer, I’ve never had a license. I just finished a 30-year prison sentence yesterday.” When we were 16, we were stupid, maladroit and completely devoid of social skills. High school was a place to go between hunting and fishing trips in order to meet girls. Consequently, our romantic interests and love of the outdoors became inextricably intertwined.

That is how one spring weekend afternoon found Ducky Jones and I headed to a little meadow by a pond we frequently fished with two young ladies in tow for a picnic and possible dalliance. We unloaded the basket of food and blankets and walked down the short trail to the pond. As we rounded a bend, there was the largest timber rattler east of the Mississippi coiled in the middle of the path. It was as thick as a fire hose, and its rattlers sounded like a skill saw.

Now, those of you who share my deep, almost psychotic, aversion to snakes will understand when I say the very sight of the thing almost made me physically ill. You know who you are. My date spotted it at the same time I did, squealed, and jumped into my arms. For a second, I was transformed from a gangly, ignorant teenager into a masculine manly-man rescuing a damsel in distress. For a second.

I don’t know if I had been rendered powerless by the mere sight of that revolting leviathan or if my date was a tad overweight, but my arms gave way and my knees buckled and I unceremoniously dropped her on the spot. Not only that, but my bladder, completely independent of any conscious thought, chose that moment to void itself. And when the girl on the ground in front of me looked up with widening eyes, the first thing she saw was my slowly darkening jeans, mere inches from her face.

She said some words I didn’t know girls knew, struggled to her feet with purpose and determination and strode back up the trail toward the car. The picnic seemed to be over. Any notion of getting lucky quickly evaporated, unlike the front of my jeans, which Ducky was happy to point out on our walk back. Several times.

That same year, a friend of a friend invited Ducky and I to his house on a Saturday night to meet a writer for a national outdoor magazine, who was a friend of his parents. That in itself was intriguing, as there was the possibility we could regale him with tales of our outdoor prowess, which might end up in print. And the friend had also assured us there would be girls there. It was a no-brainer. Which, incidentally, perfectly described me.

What we walked into was a party of 40-year-old adults in full inebriated swing. The first thing I did was knock over the lamp as I tried to close the door behind me. The second thing I did was try to catch said lamp, which resulted in three wine glasses and a large ashtray becoming airborne. Somewhere in the middle of this Chevy Chase dance, I stepped on the cat. The only thing that drowned out the poor animal’s screeches was the raucous guffaws of the revelers, every one of which was looking at me. The door was still open, so the cat and I left. Years afterward, strangers would walk up to me and say, “Heyyyyy, weren’t you the guy that….”

“No!” I would interrupt. “I wasn’t there!”

My senior year, I had a steady girlfriend who I was getting nowhere, romantically. I came up with a devious plan, brought into existence entirely by teenage hormones, and took her to the firing range with my 12 gauge. I showed her the proper grip and stance, and she dry fired it a couple of times. Then I loaded it up with high brass double oughts and let her fire for real. When I helped her up off the ground, I told her I needed to take off her blouse so I could check her for deep bruising.

She couldn’t use her right arm, but she slapped me so hard with her left hand it loosened fillings. Teenaged girls are a lot smarter than teenaged boys, but that’s not saying much. Most small game animals are smarter than teenaged boys.

A couple of weeks before our senior prom, I still did not have a date. Every girl I asked said no in varying degrees of emphasis. The best declinations were simply, “Sorry, but I already have a date.” The worst were a string of expletives followed by hysterical laughter. So, I fell back on my knowledge of the outdoors.

Baiting deer was illegal at the time, but I instinctively knew it would work, or it wouldn’t be illegal. I started a rumor that my rich uncle had died and I was going to be fabulously wealthy. I gave the gossip time to gestate and circulate. Then I went for the 200-yard head shot with iron sights and asked a cheerleader to the dance. For those not familiar with the hierarchy of the high school social order, asking a cheerleader out was tantamount to requesting an audience with the British Queen.

She fluttered her eyelashes and asked, “What kind of car will you be picking me up in?” This girl was not only oblivious to the sin of ending a sentence in a preposition, but she was totally unaware that her motives were so transparent. Look up “gold-digger” in the dictionary. That’s her picture next to it. But I had asked for it.

I blurted, “A ‘55 Nash Rambler.” Astonished, she said, “Ewwwwwww! I heard you were rich!” Utilizing one of the very few things I had learned in two years of Civics class, I pleaded, “Not until the will is probated.” I was actually surprised that fell out of my mouth. She said, “Call me when it is,” turned on her heel and sashayed away, never to speak to me again.

So, I fell back on another strategy. When the bass aren’t biting, fish for carp. I began approaching the buck-toothed, bow-legged and befuddled. By the way, they turned out to be the most beautiful, successful and well-adjusted adults, but being as dumb as deranged turtles, we didn’t know that at the time. Anyway, thinking something was wrong with me for asking, they too turned me down. So, I gave up. And that turned out to be brilliant. Two days before the prom, I inexplicably got three invitations from (otherwise) quite respectable and pretty young ladies. It took me the better part of a lifetime to figure out why. But it was yet another successful hunting strategy. You don’t stalk deer when you can sit in a stand and wait for them to come to you.

Order Garry’s new book “Dixie Days – Reminiscences of a Southern Boyhood” from, soft cover $12.

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