October 29, 2022

When an Old Man Wants to Sell His Guns

Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) on the road in The Straight Story.


When you see someone grocery shopping on a riding mower, it usually means that he has had too many DUIs and lost his license, or he cannot get it renewed for reasons of health. In Ralph's (pseudonym) case, it was the latter.

It put me in mind of the movie The Straight Story (1999), directed by David Lynch and starring Richard Farnsworth, anactor who had never registered with me until The Grey Fox (1982), at which point I became a big fan. 

In the movie, Alvin Straight (Farnsworth) sets off on a lawn tractor to drive 240 miles through Iowa and Wisconsin to reconcile with his dying brother. It was Farnsworth, however, who had reached the end of his journey, for he passed in 2000.

Take away Farnsworth's cowboy hat, makes his hair and beard longer,  and give him more of  paunch, and you have Ralph — we're going for the crusty old biker look here.

Ralph had come over earlier to ask a favor. "I want to sell my guns," he said. "I'd like to get a ride to Fargo."

Galen and I had gone to his place. It's a sick man's house: bed in the living room, and by the TV sofa, enough prescription bottles to fill a dinner plate. 

"What guns do you want to sell?" Galen asked.  Ralph reached under his pillow and pulled out not one but two Remington Model 1911 pistols in .45 ACP, both looking new. 

Then he opened a large new-looking gun safe in the hallway and pulled out more: two newish pump shotguns, a genuninely old boxlock shotgun in original case,  a Marlin .270 bolt action with synthetic stock, scope, and bipod, two .50-caliber muzzeloaders, a vintage Stevens .22 rifle, and several others. Some still had price tags.

Ralph wants to go to a pawn shop. Galen tells him that he will get the lowest payout there. On the other hand, he seems to think that if he paid $900 for a pistol, he can get that much for it from a store, which just ain't true over a short span of years.

We are equidistant from Cabela's and Scheels stores—both large outdoor clothing and equipment chains that buy and sell firearms. I called the Cabela's in East Grand Forks—yes, they will be open late, and we can bring the guns there to be evaluated by their buyer. 

But Richard objects. EAST Grand Forks is in Minnesota, and somehow every deal he has done in Minnesota turned to shit, or whatever. No Minnesota!

I call the Scheels store in Fargo. Yes, but they don't want fifteen firearms all at once. Maybe six. 

But suddenly no, they should go to auction! I call the nearest auction house. In fact, the owner knows Ralph slightly.  He also says, "It's about to get frozen up." The frequency of farm-country auctions drops off in winter. He wishes that he had had those firearms a month ago. He'll let Galen know when he has another one planned. 

We left it there.

There are other subtexts. When Ralph putt-putts up on the riding mower, he wants to borrow Galen's phone so he can call his son, Jacob, leaving an almost-begging message for Jacob to call him. 

Earlier, he had grumbled that he should just take the guns out to the farm where Jacob lives, crush them or something, and "take care of it." 

We both caught the subtext in that. It was reinforced when when he said he had told the clinic where he goes for dialysis that he wasn't coming in for his next appointment. 

I plan to leave in a couple of days, so I won't be around for the final act. I do hope that Ralph and Jacob work out their differences. It is damaging to lose a parent with unresolved issues still hanging between the generations, athough that happens all the time.  But a father who can say to his child, "You're doing OK. I'm proud of you" gives a gift that lasts a long long time.

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