I still remember the first time I shot a .22 rifle. It was many years ago, but, like any life-changing event, these seminal moments will remain forever in my memory.

The whole Admore family, immediate and extended, had flocked to our grandparents’ farm to celebrate one of the holidays. While I cannot speak as to what my female relatives were doing, the boys (all under the age of fourteen at this point in history) were avidly and animatedly discussing weaponry.

In short order, it was discovered that I had never shot a gun before. This was a shocking revelation to my cousins, both younger and older. I quickly defended my youthful honor: “Obviously,” I countered, “I know how to shoot a BB gun,” and I’d even shot a BB pistol, or so I thought.

Alas, my excuses were insufficient. Robby, the oldest, decided that something must immediately be done. The two of us traipsed into the house to find my parents, and, with unmatched sincerity, he explained his proposal to educate their oldest child on one of the more important facets of manhood. I stood nearby, piping up occasionally with promises of good behavior and perhaps even doing the dishes. (The latter serves to illustrate the fierce desire that burned inside my heart.) Shockingly, Dad granted us his blessing; fortunately, Mom did not call to mind Ralphie’s escapades in A Christmas Story until it was too late.

I think I beat Robby to the gun cabinet. There it was, suspended in a glass-windowed case three feet above the tile floor, a beautiful melding of fiery walnut and cold steel: Grandpa’s .22 rifle. How many hours had I spent staring up at it in my short life? How could such beauty exist? My heart beat audibly, then momentarily ceased as my cousin lifted the rifle from the rack. “Hold this,” he said. I grasped it, clutched it in frigid hands. Never before had I held such magnificence in my hands! Robby reached back into the cabinet and retrieved a rattling grey plastic tub. “Ammo.”

We marched outside and headed for the back forty. A brief stop behind the chicken coop to collect some tin cans from beside the burn barrels, and we were there. Acres of pasture stretched before us; a pond dam rose up in the distance, a fine backstop for the contents of a tub emblazoned as it was with the shrieked warning, “DANGER! BULLETS MAY TRAVEL UP TO 1 ½ MILES!” The rifle weighed heavily in my arms, but anxious thoughts weighed heavier still in my mind. What if it hurt? What if I was killed? I wish everyone could see me now! Robby placed the cans at a suitable distance, then came back to instruct me on the crucial rules of gun safety.

“Always point the gun in a safe direction.” “Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.” “Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.” “Treat every gun as if it were loaded.” An additional maxim was inscribed on the ammo tub, so it too was drilled into my mind: “Always unload the gun when crossing a fence.” Holding the rifle, he turned the bolt handle up and pulled it straight back. Placing a single round in the chamber, he closed the action, took aim, and fired.

I was awestruck by the sheer mechanical grace and power of it all. Blissfully, I learned how to use the simple open sights. After several practice runs, Robby was satisfied with his student. Just as I had seen him do, I loaded the gun. Aiming carefully at the nearest can, I placed my finger on the trigger and slowly squeezed. The report still echoes in my mind. And my life would never be the same again.

My grandfather still has that old .22 rifle. Well-worn, it has survived six sons who put more than a few miles on it, trapping, hunting and plinking, and it continues to serve faithfully his many grandsons to this day. More importantly, it has helped create countless indelible memories in generations of men.