Gun Shy

Dad says “sunfish,” daughter says “sunglasses”—how an outdoorsman and a style editor teach each other to appreciate the finer things in life.

I’m sure that sometimes my dad looks at me and tries to remember which mailman was assigned to our block nine months before I was born. He: compact, muscular, tan, stoic, a natural athlete and outdoorsman. Me: long and lean, ghostly pale, a bookish, emotional chatterbox, generally pinging between terror and delight. True story: once, after spending a week at the cabin with my grandmother, my mother, and me, my dad declared, “I need to go home. I’m starting to say things like ‘cuuuuuuuuute.’”

Over the years, Dad has attempted to teach me to love the outdoors. Through him, I discovered the joy of pulling a golden-green fish belly to the water’s surface, that a roasted marshmallow is just as good burned black, that a riproaring three-wheeler ride is sometimes the cure for what ails you. (And yet, I won’t bait a hook; I run screaming from outhouses; I am terrified of and can’t kill bugs, but I will make you miserable until you do it for me.) Twice, snakes have slithered over my feet and I have basically needed therapy to get over it.

Once, when I was middle-school age, I was reading inside our cabin while my dad was outside fishing. It was silent enough to hear the plook! of a line hitting the water halfway across the lake. Suddenly, I heard the motor gear up and my dad yelling, “Katie! Katie! Get out here!” Thinking something terrible had happened—this is my default condition, and probably something else for which I need therapy—I sprinted down to the beach to find him pointing to the bushes nearby. There, a rainbow had ended, imbuing the leaves with vibrant reds, oranges, yellows…all the way to violet. We sat there, quiet, before we laughed that of course our end of the rainbow didn’t have a pot o’ gold—in spite of our being good Irish folk!

But for all the times I’ve told my dad that he’s completely crazy—and there have been many—I know that moment was the pot of gold. And that was hardly the only time he has shared the best of his world: eating freshly caught and fried sunfish in our swimsuits, jumping into a lake so cold it took our breath away.

I have, over the years, attempted to reciprocate, but I tend to show my appreciation with objects. I don’t have as many life experiences to share, but I am a good shopper.

For example, recently I was at J.W. Hulme—my favorite leather goods purveyor—for a sample sale. Hip deep in handbags, I spied…a leather shotgun case.

Another stark contrast between Dad and me: he is a competitive sporting clays shooter, whereas I have never touched a gun. He is, by all accounts, excellent at it—he has trophies and plaques lining his basement bar, and has been named Minnesota High Gun, the local equivalent of a gold medal in marksmanship.

Perfect! I thought. Dad needs a designer handbag! (I can see my dad shaking his head right now.) I grabbed it and got in line.

A few minutes later, a man behind me in line politely inquired if I knew that gun cases came in sizes. Uh…no. (What tipped him off? My Starbucks mug? My armload of handbags?)
I called my dad, who was at the gun club. He picked up, yelling over the cacophony. I yelled back.

“So, Dad, uh, if ONE were to buy a gun case, like, uh, what size would ONE need?”

 “Well, Kate, it would depend on the gun. I mean, if you wanted…” and then he launched into a description that sounded as if he were reading a military manual. The line inched forward. Everyone was listening.

“No, Dad, wait. No. If ONE were to buy a gun case for, like, say, YOUR kind of gun…”

His buddies began weighing in, yelling in the background as my dad conducted a poll. Astonishingly, my dad appeared to believe that I called for a casual chat about gun cases. The tipster behind me giggled.

Consensus came back: 52 inches. The tag on the case I held read “50.” Bummer. It was so beautiful, so luxurious. I wanted it, and I don’t even own a gun. I momentarily considered it: I might be a good markswoman.

Instead, I hung up and handed the case to an eager shopper.

Well, Dad, no new gun case for you. Looks like I’m going to have to book us some facials.

Katie Dohman is Minnesota Monthly’s lifestyle editor.