McKean Minute: The Greatest Treasure

I have a couple of heirloom rifles that I wouldn’t sell for all the farms in Iowa. One is a Winchester Model 1892 chambered in .25/20 that my dad took in trade from a Hunkpapa Sioux when he was a ranch hand in South Dakota. Its serial number indicates that it was made in 1899, and I often wonder all the things that rifle has seen: the end of open cattle range, the first generations of reservation life, scabbards on the flanks of dozens of good horses.

The other rifle is a Remington Targetmaster .22, a single-shot bolt action that was my first gun. Before that, it belonged to my grandfather, a red-dirt Mississippi hick who was the smartest kid in his town, so smart that his teachers paid for his first years at Mississippi State, where he got a masters degree in engineering and later a PhD. He worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority, powering the big hydro dams that electrified the Southeast and put wire and lights in his parents’ farmhouse.

But I’d trade both those rifles to have Scott Hamilton riding shotgun again. Scott was one of my oldest and best friends. He died last weekend at his home in Austin, dropped dead in the shower after a strenuous hike.

Though we lived in distant towns and saw each other at most once a year, the accumulated experiences and shared memories were like inertia, pushing us to the next plan. Most of those plans involved some sort of road trip. Outside of my family, I’ve spent more time in pickups and covered more miles of open road with Scott than anyone. It was nothing for us to drive 500 miles for a burger and a beer in some dive bar.

We hunted together every chance we got, and our plans were to meet in northern Wisconsin, where Scott had a cabin, for deer season. I was already savoring our evenings, pulled up to some North Woods bar, a cheeseburger and a frosty Old Style either celebrating the success or soothing the disappointment of the day.

Friends like Scott aren’t gifts, they’re made every day. While there’s nothing greater than meeting a new friend, there’s also nothing like the easy pace and conversation of an old friendship. It’s like the wood on an old rifle: smooth and worn, with a few nicks and scratches earned through honest use, that takes your hand and holds it, ready to lead you on your next adventure.

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