by Russ Lumpkin
ABOUT THE TIME I CAME ALONG, my father procured a gun cabinet. He didn’t buy it, but similar to firearms, furniture, and other stuff he acquired over the years—including my Remington .30-06 carbine that came in a swap for a Ford Falcon—he traded for it. In this instance, he bartered a pony for the cabinet and a couch.
After a stint in the army during the Korean War and a few jobs afterwards, my father worked with Lockheed as a draftsman and had begun to make a little headway in the world. He had purchased land northeast of Rome, Georgia, where nearly all the Lumpkins I know were born; built a house; and added a pond and a few ponies to the landscape. Over time, he felt the call to preach—which is soul-satisfying work but often tough on the bottom line.
Over the next several years, as he raised four kids, worked a full-time job, spread the Word, and hunted and fished when he could, money got tight. The story goes that we needed a couch and Dad couldn’t afford something new, but he knew a fellow out on the Kingston Highway who dealt in used furniture and accepted the occasional trade. While looking for a couch, the gun cabinet caught his eye. My dad offered the man a pony, they no doubt shook hands, and the cabinet and a couch arrived at our house in early February 1967, just a couple days after I did.
“A person can have a relationship with just about anything. For hunters and anglers, the list goes beyond family, friends, and dogs, and can include a piece of land, a stretch of river. Our relationships set the standards for what we define as precious.”
Unlike modern gun safes, Dad’s cabinet—wholly fitting for a man of faith—didn’t protect its contents from water, fire, or thieves. Built for display and constructed every bit of oak, the cabinet shone with a red finish, and a piece of heavy glass fit tightly into the door. The crown had been hand-carved, as had some embellishment on the ammo drawer and a strip that hid the seam where the door and doorframe came together.
My memories of the cabinet include the joy Dad felt in acquiring and owning it. His own father had traded livestock, cuts of meat, and produce, just trying to make ends meet through the Great Depression, and I think Dad believed the way he obtained the cabinet would have pleased Papa Lumpkin. Whenever we had company—visiting pastors or anyone, really—he’d tell the story of the cabinet, and it mattered not whether the person had heard the story prior. He’d tell of its craftmanship and handsome finish, and open the ammo drawer to display the tight-fitting dovetail joints.
His pride in the cabinet instilled a similar pride for it in me, but the cabinet also held the promise of actual hunting. In it, Dad stored a .410 Ted Williams model from Sears, and he’d promised I’d learn to shoot doves with that gun. For years, I eyed it with great anticipation, showed it to my friends, and on occasion would shoulder it, and open it and close it just to hear the pleasing sound of its action. Eventually, I killed my first few doves with it.
In time, Dad traded for automatic shotguns that my two brothers and I used for years. The cabinet held those guns, a lot of hopes, and crow and duck calls and hunting caps and knives and whetstones and a vintage oil can that, with just a little pressure on the bottom, dispensed oil with a satisfying pop-pop.
My primary memory of the old cabinet entails my affections for it. Growing up, I’d often explore the ammo drawer, which is also where he stored anything that didn’t fit in the main cabinet. More than anything, the bottom drawer held the rich aroma of various lubricants—Hoppe’s No. 9, 4-in-1, honing oil, WD-40—mixed with the smell of old paper shotgun shells. The old drawer also held loose lead pellets of various shot sizes, broken arrowheads, and long and short .22 cartridges that lay scrambled with oily rags, random coins, and leather shoestrings. All the contents of the drawer, along with the inside of the drawer itself, had matured into a dark patina enhanced with a thin covering of oil.
That old gun cabinet also stood as repository of many good memories. Dad wasn’t a patient man, but he taught me how to clean and disassemble a gun at the base of that cabinet. He walked me through the steps of sharpening knives and taught me the value of keeping them sharp at all times, told me it was part of a being a woodsman. He explained why .410 shells lacked the heft of other gauges and why the gun would be a good starter model for a young boy.
When my parents passed, my siblings and I cleaned their house and shed, and filled a roll-away dumpster with a combination of things that a pastor wouldn’t throw away, because they stated Jesus somewhere on them, or a man wouldn’t throw away, because he grew up during the Depression. We had long since divvied up the antiques, and though I never looked forward to the day the cabinet became mine, I planned to give it a good home. It wouldn’t fit into my old Trooper, so we loaded it into my brother’s truck and carried it 60 miles to my house.
Somewhere in my dad’s later years, the lock quit working. The original fastener employed a skeleton key, but instead of installing something similar that preserved the beauty of the cabinet, Dad, having grown old and tired, bored out the old character-filled keyhole and installed a standard cam-style lock.
Once we hauled the cabinet inside my little office and set it in place, I removed the replacement lock, which left a 11 /8-inch-diameter hole in the door. I began scouring the internet for a bolt that would fit the age and style of the cabinet.
I soon found an old skeleton lock on eBay, but it took a while to find a keyhole cover that suited my tastes and covered the hole without dominating the entire front. Just a few weeks ago, I finally found what I’d been looking for, and when it arrived, I simply carved a space around the unsightly hole that would hold the cover snugly. The cabinet doesn’t look as good as the original but is better than when I received it.
Inspired by the improved look of the cabinet, I spent the entire evening rearranging its contents. My little Spanish 20 side-by-side is now front and center. A 30-inch, open-bore Model 12 Winchester, also a product of a trade, stands just to the right of it. A few other guns from my youth or that I’ve accrued over the years take up the brunt of the space. The entire left side is occupied by fly rods—including a couple that belong to my daughter. Various box and slate calls and crow calls line the top shelf, and fly reels sit along beside them. The ammo drawer still smells like sweet memories of my youth.
When I locked the cabinet and saw its improved look, I wept.
The cabinet is more than a connection to the past and a place to store my stuff; it’s a constant reminder of a very good part of my relationship with my father. I know Dad loved his children by what he taught us, but I can look at some of the contents of that cabinet and know he loved my brothers and me by the sacrifices he made—just so we could share the joys of hunting.
A person can have a relationship with just about anything. For hunters and anglers, the list goes beyond family, friends, and dogs, and can include a piece of land, a stretch of river. Our relationships set the standards for what we define as precious. To me, that gun cabinet is precious, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.