While visiting with my brother during the holidays we spend a couple of hours Christmas afternoon digging through a cedar chest that had been in our parent’s house. It has been years since either of us had delved into the battered old chest.
It contained the usual assortment and family knickknacks and junk meaningless to anyone with a different last name: decades old receipts; yellowed and faded snapshots; a folded packet of W-2 forms chronicling our father’s yearly income for nearly two decades beginning in 1949. A note written in our mother’s round, flowing script. A baton my brother had twirled in school. An antique, black-handled .38 revolver and a German-made .22 single action – both damaged and probably beyond the powers of the most skilled gunsmith.
My eye caught a flash of greenish bronze. “What’s that,” I asked. My brother removed a box and unwrapped a powder horn; about six inches long, the butt end larger than a golf ball but not quite baseball size. The stopper was missing and there was no strap but a roughly made catch was evidence that one had once been attached. It was thin as bone china.
Neither of us could remember our father , a hunter, ever owning, shooting, or having any interest in a black powder firearm. We determined the horn must have belonged to our grandfather, William Zachary, our mother’s father, and a man of whom I have no memory. He died before my birth. My brother, who is nine years my senior, has vague memories of him.
I turned the old piece over in my hands. It was intact save for the missing stopper. A tiny pinhole marked the only flaw in the horn. It smelled faintly of powder. I handed it to my brother who took a whiff and shook his head. I then decided the unmistakable scent of black powder must have been generated from memory. If we were correct about the ownership it hadn’t seen action in nearly seven decades.
“You shoot a black powder gun, don’t you?” my brother asked.
“I do,” I said, still holding the old horn, which felt both fragile and indestructible.
“Maybe we could shoot your black powder gun and use this sometime,” he said.
Maybe. But for now it went back in the chest. Some things shouldn’t be disturbed.