Put Down the Worm, Put Down the Gun...

Kathie GibboneyBy Kathie Gibboney

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Put Down the Worm, Put Down the Gun...
Barnaby Domigan, 9, found an earthworm that he and his mom estimate was about a meter long at the bottom of his family’s garden in New Zealand. (Source: Chris Domigan, Radio New Zealand via CNN)
I once pulled a gun on a man. He followed me home from the second grade in that awful Bakersfield heat of 1960, where my parents had moved us from Ohio not realizing it was a desert. Walking up the hill, glancing back over my shoulder, he kept coming, following me from the playground. My stalker threatened me, not with verbal abuse, physical brutality, or weapons but with a live, wriggling earthworm. I kind of think he liked me...the boy, not the worm. “I’m going to get you with this!” he taunted bringing it ever closer. Nonetheless, I stood my ground, right there in front of our new pink stucco, tract home. From somewhere deep within my young American heart, I heard myself say, “I’ve got a gun. You better get out of here!” He started to laugh and teased me with the poor, slithery lumbricines terrestris, which twitched and coiled trying to escape his clammy hand as he held it out close to my face. “Nah, you don’t have any gun,” he challenged. “Well, my brother does, and I’ll go get it right now!” I warned him. “You better leave.” But he didn’t go. And we just stood there, in that glaring heat, panting a bit. “I bet it’s just a toy anyway,” he scoffed. “It’s a rifle, a real one,” I countered. “And It can really shoot.” Still, he smiled with his Huck Finn grin, moving just a bit as the sprinklers started in the yard next door. Now I was in too deep; this wasn’t going well. I would have to make good my threat. I could, of course, just go inside, close the door and ignore him, but he had irritated me with his swagger. I was also slightly afraid of, or attracted to him, but I didn’t want him to know that. I turned running past the dusty Birds of Paradise to the house, and quickly into little brother’s room. There it was, over near the toy box, his coveted cowboy rifle, a recent Easter present, of all things. I hadn’t really paid much attention to the piece of armory, except to be happy he was happy playing with it. In the back yard he’d aim it about and mumble, sometimes declaring, “Got ya!”, he and ‘Old Betsy’ protecting our homestead from the wild desperados of Kern County. I don’t remember it ever firing anything but it did make a sort of popping noise. A quick peek out the curtain revealed my adversary still lying-in-wait, so thus armed, I walked back outside. High Noon. I hoped just seeing me brandishing the weapon would discourage him, send him running but in the harsh light of day the great rifle didn’t look so threatening, nor by that time, did the unfortunate worm. .“That’s a just pop gun,” he guffawed. I raised the barrel trying to look Annie Oakley, cowgirl tough. The boy laughed again until he suddenly stopped, noticing something. I turned and there was my mother coming down our front walk. I’ve never been quite sure how she so quickly assessed the situation, perhaps she had witnessed the standoff from the window. Being a woman of quality and wisdom, she said, “Put down the worm, put down the gun.” We did as she decreed. I was spared having to pull the trigger and the worm was dispatched to a shady spot under some geraniums. If it could speak, I’m sure it would have said, “Thank-you.” My mother asked the boy his name and then to my dismay invited him in for some Kool Aid and cookies! We sat at a little picnic table, not saying much, with the vast, hardscrabble desert just beyond our backyard no doubt filled with many a spent shot, as lizards scurried by. It turned out Peter St. Cloud lived just down the street and was Native American (which in those days was called “Indian”), which I found quite exotic. We’d see each other from time to time, even occasionally walking to school together still not really talking although he once said he liked my shoes. We never spoke of our first encounter. Later, in that scorching summer we moved away. I never picked up a gun again. Now I watch young boys playing, I see their natural desire to be bigger, stronger, more powerful, to possess mighty abilities, superpowers and to shoot guns. Sometimes they play with plastic tools; a small hammer, screwdriver, the ever-popular saw and even an innocent leveler are turned into weapons and given sound effects. “No tools as weapons!” I plead. “They’re to build with, to create, not to destroy,” but my words were drowned out by the excitement generated by a passing garbage truck. My young Topanga charges do not know that someone who felt helpless, powerless, and angry used a semi-automatic weapon as a way to feel powerful and that children are dead. Again and again that story unfolds. And there are speeches about the “community healing, getting through this and moving on.” I know if I were a parent whose child was killed, I would scream and yell, while rending my clothes, or pulling out my hair. “NO! No moving on! Stop right here, don’t heal, don’t sleep, weep with me, rage with me until we find a way to fix this.” How I wish Kool-Ade and cookies were the answer. When I assign myself to find a solution the best I come up with is a 24-hour hotline that any suffering human considering carnage could anonymously call, just to talk to someone. Wiser minds must prevail. My eye falls upon a glass jar I have filled, supposedly with water from the Mississippi. When my son was moving back from New Orleans I requested some of The Mighty Mississipp’. I thought that river water romantic and powerful and imagined using it in a spell one day. That day has come. I hereby summon forth an enlightened being of any gender, a Gandhi for our time, a Guru, perhaps a gentle carpenter, someone’s mother or even an Alien to help us all to “Put down the worm and put down the gun.”
Kathie Gibboney

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March 3, 2023

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