The shooting bench sits on the edge of a cleared, flat pasture, next to a copse of live oaks, so the late evening sun there is filtered and softened. It’s a nice spot, with a good 300 yards of open space in front of it to place targets. If you want to shoot farther than that, the hills around have plenty of clearings where white quartz rocks can be ranged and hulled. There are even a few steel gongs here and there, if you know where to look.
The bench itself is made of concrete, with steel pipe for legs, tied together with welded rebar. You could probably hook a chain to that bench and spin the tires of a half-ton pickup in the sandy soil, trying to drag it. This is not a lightweight bench. The guy who made it is a friend of mine, a fellow who believes that sighting in a rifle on a platform that would wiggle in a force 8 earthquake is a waste of time.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time at that shooting bench, sighting in rifles and pistols, just shooting for fun, or shooting more breeze than ammo. It’s a nice spot to kick back and relax. The rough surface will remove the skin from your elbows when shooting anything 30 caliber or above, so some type of padding is recommended.
Two of my best friends, brothers, one of whom built the shooting bench, were there on a recent Saturday, hanging out. They were burning some powder, but probably did more talking and arguing than shooting. The spotting scopes keep trips downrange to a minimum, and the rangefinders settle arguments concerning distance. It’s a great way to kill time.
Off to one side sits a small frame house, where the parents of the brothers lives. Next to the house is a reservior and a water trough, both of which are kept filled by a windmill. On the day in question, the two brothers saw, from the shooting bench, their father come out of the house and begin making his way toward the windmill.
This is not unusual, but what happened next was. The dad, who is over 80, got to the windmill and started climbing the ladder. He had evidently decided something was wrong with it. He’s been keeping that windmill going for no telling how many years, and he’s not going to let a little thing like eight decades of life make him quit.
The brothers, through their spotting scopes, watched their dad climb the tower from about 500 yards away. It was too far to shout, and by the time they’d figured out what their dad was up to it was too late to drive over and stop him. And whether they’d have been able to stop him, even if they’d been there, is in doubt.
So they watched. And hoped he wouldn’t fall.
I won’t keep you in suspense. He didn’t fall. He made it to the top, checked out the mechanism for a while, and started back down. It looked like his 30-foot vertical journey was going to be round trip, the easy way, after all. Until he got about 10 feet below the top. When his pants fell down. Around his ankles.
Now, this is not a good situation. Dad had no business climbing a windmill to begin with. After all, as my friend, Bill Koock, once told me, God is not with us when we do things like that. Bill based this statement on Matthew 28:20, in which Jesus says, “Lo, I am with you always.” He didn’t say anything about ‘high.’
So having your pants fall down around your ankles when you’re 20 feet up a ladder is a Bad Thing, but it’s even worse when you’re an octogenarian, and can’t bend as well as you used to. The case could easily get downright serious, and quickly, especially when you consider that windmill ladder rungs are farther apart and harder to climb than regualr ladder rungs.
So Dad did the only logical thing he could have done in that situation, after standing there for a while and looking around. He kicked his shoes off, then kicked his pants off, and climbed the rest of the way down the ladder in his Fruit of the Looms.
The brothers watched all this from the shooting bench, wondering whether to laugh or worry. They probably did a little of both, but their father made it down OK, so the whole thing turned out all right. And since, as you would expect, the place where all this happened is a long way outside of the nearest town, the brothers were the only witnesses to the near-catastrophe.
When Dad got off the windmill he retrieved his pants and shoes, put them back on, got in his pickup, and started to town. When he noticed his sons at the shooting bench he stopped to say hello. He got out, ambled over, and said, “Hey, how y’all doing?” like nothing ever happened. He obviously had no intention of relating his eventful episode on the windmill, hoping they hadn’t noticed. Neither of them could keep a straight face.
There’s probably a lesson here somewhere, but I’m dogged if I can figure out what it is . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who always wears a belt when climbing windmills. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org