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Better than Fiction (non fiction)

                          The “80”


        My son was a career Air Force man and while visiting me in northern Wisconsin, he saw 80 acres of woods, swamp and beaver dam that he loved on sight and wanted for a summer home when he retired.  There was a vintage house trailer on a large clearing near the road, and with water, bottle gas cooking stove and an outhouse, he could stay there, comfortably enough, during summer visits.  With two days left before he was due to leave for his next station overseas, he completed the transaction and owned the land. He left the key to the trailer with me.

        I made numerous trips to the "80" that summer. I learned my way about the woods, and while sitting on the bank of the beaver pond watching for beavers, enjoyed dozens of jewel colored dragonflies darting about. I never saw a beaver, but saw a stump and freshly gnawed wood chips.


     Under the steps of the trailer lived a nest of bumblebees. I often sat on the steps, basking in the sun, and the bumblebees entered and left their home with no apparent concern or malice towards me. I enjoyed watching them. On the opposite side of the trailer was a pump with deliciously cold water. After a warm walk in the woods, that pump would be my first stop.  Unfortunately, some yellow jackets also liked it and made their nest in its spout.

     I suppose there's no parallel between the bumblebees and the yellow jackets because one lived side by side with me and we didn't interfere with each other. In the case of the yellow jackets, we both wanted the same spot and that can do dire things to a "Live and Let Live" philosophy. It has, also, been my observation that bumblebees have a placid nature while yellow jackets come at you like a "Spitfire" at war, at least, when you dislodge their nest with a gush of water.

     We waged war for a month or more.  I still don't know how I came through unscathed, I was threatened often enough, but it's amazing how fast a human can

move when the adrenaline is at its peak and he's fighting for something he considers belongs to him.  My offense was always the same; I'd give a mighty pump on the handle, and dash for the back door that was only 10 feet away. I'd look through the window and there he'd be glaring at me inches from my face [I swear it was the same one every time, he hated me].

     With the nest dislodged, the yellow jackets would hover about for 10 minutes, or so, and then leave, and it would be safe to go out and pump "my" water. 

     With a week usually elapsing between my visits, the yellow jackets always had a new nest built in the pump spout. Then, one day, I made the dash for nothing, the enemy had departed. I was surprised to find that I was disappointed; after all, my old enemy had been a worthy adversary and our encounters had been exciting. I wondered if they would be back the next summer.

Betty J. Sayles is a retired librarian who has been wring most of her life, but only tried for publication a few years ago. She loves to read, everything from Poe’s Raven to Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin. She loves to walk in the woods and come home and write a poem about it. And she writes about feelings, good and bad.

   On Owning a Firearm

This essay is dedicated to my beloved Sarah who has been an   unfailing inspiration in the creation of it...

My father was employed with the United States' Department of Justice at the Federal Detention Headquarters in Greenwich Village, New York—right next door to the Bell Laboratories—and every six months he had to qualify his competence with the use of a pistol. His friend was the qualifying officer, and when I was a boy, I would frequently accompany them (“go shooting”) to the FBI indoor shooting range in Manhattan—if I remember correctly. There I, too, “qualified” by being introduced to any number of pistols and rifles—even a sub-Thompson machine gun. What I recall most vividly was the stench of gun smoke that filled the range, and I often couldn't wait to return home. I can say that I was nothing more than a novice shooter in my youth, not like my battalion commander at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas, a West Pointer, who was a member of the all-Army .45 caliber pistol team and who helped me understand the Art of Shooting that most, for me, cumbersome weapon. Being around guns when I was so young, I remember being inculcated with an almost abnormal respect for weaponry, and I learned that when one aims a weapon it must be at a paper target or an attacking hostile force. Firing line discipline is a must.

Of course, in the Army I would trip all day over arms. As an Artillery officer, I was trained to fre the 105mm howitzer, the 155mm howitzer, the 8-inch “gun” at the time the most accurate artillery weapon in the world, the 120mm howitzer; and, when I served in a rocket and missile training battalion, I “hung around” the Little John and Honest John rockets. (Rockets are distinguished from missiles in that a rocket, when fred, cannot be guided from the control room. Missiles, such as the Pershing and Sergeant, can be—or, at least could be when I served in the Army.) Then there were the .45 caliber pistol, the M-1 rife, the M-14 rife, the M-16 rife and the M-60 machine gun—all of them weapons that were used by the infantry and which I had to have a working knowledge of their uses.

In Vietnam, as an artillery forward observer, I was authorized an M-16 rife which was having its “baptism of fire” in Vietnam, but had to have different  adjustments made to it because of its problems with jamming and misfirings. In fact, the LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol members) refused to use the M-16 opting for the AK-47s that had been captured from enemy forces. When I was a aerial forward observer, I used the CAR-15 rife which was, essentially, a snub-nosed M-16. In an O-1 Cessna observation plane, referred to as the “bird dog,” the CAR-15 was the just-right weapon to use when leaning out of the plane's window. I taped two 30-round “banana” magazines together, and every fifth or so round in the clips was a tracer round which guided the firing of the weapon when need be, I also wore a holstered

45-caliber pistol when flying over the beautiful terrain in the Central Highlands of Vietnam searching for the enemy.


To be perfectly honest with you, I really don't like guns, weapons. When I lived in Caracas, Venezuela (1975-1983), I was robbed three times - two times at gunpoint. The first time, three men accosted me at the corner of a dark street near my home, and two of the banditos had put a pistol to each temple of my head while the third took every possession I had including my belt, glasses, wallet, keys, and pipe. I rationalized that I should have carried a weapon when I lived there, but I never gave into that urge. My reasoning is this: I do not want to live continually with the thought someone might assault me. Such an occurrence is usually rare - even in the violent Caracas of today - and I wish to think most people are good and not out to attack me. Having a pistol within my reach at all times puts negative feelings into my being and might, over time, lead me to be paranoid regarding my feelings towards my fellows. (Please do not think I am naive. If I were a diamond salesman walking

around Manhattan with $10,000,000 of diamonds in a satchel, I certainly would want to have a registered firearm to protect myself when necessary. Or suppose I lived on a 50,000,000-acre ranch in Montana and my home was surrounded by bobcats or black bears or gray wolves or rattlesnakes or coyotes or I would receive notice that my mother-in-law was coming out to visit with us “for a week or so,” you can be sure I would possess a firearm to offer warning shots to these beasts letting them all know who the boss was on my ranch. I could never shoot to kill for sport an animal unless it had imperiled my own life. (But maybe, my mother-in-law!)


Another aspect of owning or being authorized to use a weapon is that you have to clean the damn thing! Cleaning a CAR-15 after its firing with tracer bullets, is not a pleasant task. And ask any “redleg” (the artillerymen who fire howitzers) what it is like to clean the “barrel” of a howitzer! It's no fun believe me. I remember cleaning my M-16 in my hooch at night, with monsoon rains beating down, near the borders of Cambodia and Laos, with oil patches and a cleaning rod—using a flashlight with a red filter! (I wished I had joined the Navy!)


Now for some serious advice about owning a firearm. I recommend that you put two blanks in the first and second chambers of your pistol. If you are at home, and you firmly believe there is an intruder in your home, firing your pistol two times, nine out of ten times, will scare the trespasser away. If not, you might have to shoot at him or her. DO NOT SHOOT TO KILL. SHOOT TO MAIM. Shoot at an arm if you are a good shot. If not, shoot at your interloper's legs. If you kill your unwelcome person you are going to be in hot water, and for a number of reasons. The Law. Your victim's friends and family members are not going to be happy with you, and they might even seek to avenge the death of their fellow family member or close acquaintance. And, if

they don't kill you, they might harass you for the rest of your life with middle-of-the-night calls and whatever. In addition, if you kill you are going to be burdened with that thought forever. I probably never killed in Vietnam, but some nights, when I was in charge of a battery, we fired H&I rounds (Harassment & Interdiction) every fifteen minutes or so just to keep the enemy on his or her toes—it was said. It was never reported to me that someone had been killed by the rounds I had ordered. Nevertheless, I have known individuals who have killed. (When I was studying for an MA in English at the University of Florida, I sold whiskey and wine for the Fulton Distributing Company of Jacksonville, and one of my clients was an ex-LRRP recently out of Vietnam. John was a killer killer. He told me he had slit throats so he didn't

have to give his position away firing his AK-47. John was paranoid. Every two or three months he had to “go in” for psychiatric treatment after going berserk drunk on white German Rhine wine and drugs. He had to hunt, he said, to “get the killing out” of him. Who knows how many people John had killed in war, but killing one person will stick with one's conscience for even ever more.) If you must stop an aggression launch at you by another person, always try to maim. By doing so, you can then go to the hospital and visit your attacker and offer your apologies—advising him or her that you will shoot again if he or she tries to rob you again. You might even become lifelong friends! It is not nice to see people all bandaged up after being shot. In Vietnam, I went to a field hospital to visit grunts who had been wounded

during the battle for Dak To. Many had had thoracic surgery or had been shot in their arms and legs. There was a sea of white sheets and white bandages with blood seeping through the gauze of the medical dressings. Guns hurt. Don't hurt. Don't get hurt.


​           Authored by Anthony St. John


Kelly Writers House
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