A Gun with Her Lingerie
Aunt Velma concluded her story, “So, for years I kept that pistol hidden in my lingerie drawer.” This comment startled me. It was not something that I would ever have imagined coming from her, a person whose life centered around a pacifist church, one who had prayed for the Japanese children during WW II. She held her belief’s clearly, strongly, and without compromise. From childhood she had been taught that killing was wrong, and she would never have considered owning a handgun. Yet, here she was, telling me that she had hidden one somewhere in her lingerie drawer.
We were visiting by phone when she told me this story, the first part of which I already knew because I was actually present when it happened. It was the summer after I had graduated from college. In the fall I would start my first year of teaching, and Wayne and I would plan our Christmas wedding. But for the summer, I lived in Missouri with Aunt Velma, Uncle Dean and their family. It was a fun and happy time, a summer of having the brothers my family was missing. We laughed and joked a lot, but not all had been fun and games.
One Saturday evening a car drove into the yard. A young boy ran into the house through the front door and his mother and brother burst in the back porch door. I could hear Uncle Dean out in the yard speaking to someone who sounded drunk. It was the father, Mike. Uncle Dean made friends with every person he met and Mike had been no exception. It turned out that Mike was not only drunk but also upset and angry with his wife who had left him. While Dean and Mike sat on the porch and talked, his wife Betty and her two sons stayed inside with the rest of us. When the long summer evening faded into darkness, it was decided that Betty and her sons would stay overnight. We figured out sleeping spots for everyone and went to bed, but the murmur of voices continued on the porch.
Sunday morning, I got up early to wash my hair and discovered that Uncle Dean was leaving to take Betty and her sons home again. Mike was gone. When Uncle Dean returned, he came into the kitchen where I was starting coffee to go with Aunt Velma’s delectable cinnamon rolls. “I have something to show you,” he said in an unusually serious voice. He disappeared into his bedroom and returned holding a pistol, no longer loaded, but ominous-looking nevertheless—Mike had come intending to shoot his wife. Instead, he had voluntarily given the loaded pistol to Uncle Dean.
The full enormity of what could have happened hit me slowly. All through church, I kept thinking of how the evening could have turned out very differently. Along with deep gratefulness for our safety, I also marveled at Uncle Dean who with only a high school diploma and not a single class in counseling or de-escalating dangerous situations, had ended up with the loaded gun in his hands, and Mike at home, peacefully sleeping off his drunkeness.
That is the part of the story I knew, but Aunt Velma continued. “Dean gave me the pistol and asked me to hide it somewhere. If Mike ever came to pick it up, he didn’t want to know where it was. So,” Aunt Velma concluded with a little chuckle, “I kept that gun hidden in my dresser drawer for years.”
I had to smile to myself at the idea. Her actions were consistent with her beliefs. Yet, the image of her drawer of intimate apparel as the hiding place for a pistol, felt like a disjuncture, a mixed metaphor, a contradiction. I tried to come up in my mind with a photo of her that would fit the “pistol-packin’ mama” image the gun in her drawer suggested. There were none, of course. She was always a simply-dressed, covering-wearing Mennonite woman. Yet I felt something of her amusement at herself—her recognition that this detail of her life might invite such an image. As I moved beyond amusement, I could see in the paradox a wisdom born of love, a willingness to break one’s own rules, perhaps even loose face, for the sake of a greater good. I see her ability not to take herself too seriously and to live with ambiguity despite her clarity. It makes me wonder, what I would be willing to hold in my drawer—how might I be called on to live with contradiction?