While researching this week’s article on Luke Jones, I discovered the man who homesteaded Trail’s End south of Allerton in 1857 was Thomas Richardson. He is my great-great-great-great grandfather. His father, David Richardson, fought in the Revolutionary War and later served under General Mad Anthony Wayne, our county’s namesake. By his death in 1891, Thomas was the oldest living homesteader in Wayne County. Thomas’ daughter Emily married James T. Selby, a veteran of the Civil War. James’ great-great grandson, my father, James Wesley Selby, fought in Vietnam. They are all buried in Richardson Chapel Cemetery across the hill from where I was raised.
Browsing through my father’s DD214 military records while preparing to send them off for his Purple Heart, I noted his GT score would have qualified him for membership in Mensa, which requires an IQ above a certain number for approval. Mensa is an international organization that allows smart people to mingle and share ideas with other smart people—but only if you qualify numerically. That wasn’t my father’s style. I am not sure he even knew what Mensa was. He became, instead, a member of the NRA when I was growing up, until he relinquished his allegiance to that organization after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, along with other former members such as ex-president George H.W. Bush. For Bush, my father and others, the ideas espoused by the NRA’s CEO at that time too closely resembled the dialect of Timothy McVeigh.
My father was interested in freedom, but not revolution for the sake of revolution. He was a world-class marksman—according to his skeet shoot buddies like Tony Funk—and his nickname in Vietnam was ‘Shotgun,’ but the thought of using one to kill a man again moved him to tears. I heard that emotion get the best of him, to the point of being physically debilitated, when he was falsely accused of threatening someone with a pistol. He also hated the idea of calling military operations ‘police actions,’ and told me never to send one of my sons overseas if Congress, in his own words, did not have the guts to declare war. He said he would be proud of his grandchildren, but to consider the consequences first. Since my direct ancestors served in the American Revolution, the Civil War and Vietnam, my family has seen enough bloodshed. The human race needs to grow up—and cast deeper roots.
Next to our Christmas tree in our living room was a locked gun case with the NRA seal on the glass. That’s where we opened presents. My father’s protest did not include scraping away the symbol—he was not one to march to make his point. One of the guns inside was a .38 Special my father had forcefully taken from one of my great-uncles when he threatened to kill himself. After that, my great-uncle threatened to kill us. I wasn’t even 10-years-old. I still believed in Santa Claus.
I have many memories of visiting a Missouri gun shop with my father. That is where he exchanged my great-uncle’s .38 Special for my first bird-hunting 20-gauge. My father and my brother Grant were the big hunters in my family, but I tagged along. It was meaningful for me in the year 2000 to walk a fencerow with my father in his last season he was able to physically hunt. It was a reflection of what his grandfather Doc Ingraham did for him, and a way I could connect with my father, second-hand, with his experiences in Vietnam, which shaped my family in innumerous ways. That year, Agent Orange was beginning to change my father’s body. It was also the first time the VA offered him counseling for PTSD. It only took them 35 years. Dioxin was just as patient.
In 1962, the year before my father graduated from Cambria-Corydon High School, biologist and author Rachel Carson released ‘Silent Spring.’ She was dying of cancer. The book begins with a spring where no birds sing. Before that, the pesticide DDT was being overused, and the public was not being told the dangers. Survivors of the Holocaust were deloused by being sprayed in the face with DDT. Children in America laughed as trucks rolled by smoking clouds of the pesticide. There is a copy in LeCompte Memorial Library in Corydon of ‘Silent Spring.’ It survives as a living record. For her effort, in the last years of her life, Carson was called a Communist for wishing to protect the genetic heritage of man and animal alike. In the early 1960s, it was the Inquisition equivalent of being labeled a heretic. The businessman’s ethic of profit had replaced all profound universal truths with glossy catalogues full of models plastic as mannequins.
In contrast, Carson grew up with a reverence for the natural world. It awakened her from silence despite the consequences:
“It seems reasonable to believe—and I do believe—that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.”