The Candle Shoot

Our backyard was not an urban oasis. It was not a landscaped sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of life. It was a crazy obstacle course surrounded by a 6 foot cinderblock wall.

Our backyard was rarely pretty enough to photograph - a couple inches of snow dressed it up nicely.

Our backyard was rarely pretty enough to photograph – a couple inches of snow  and – Viola! it’s dressed up nicely.

You entered through a 12 foot wide sliding glass door off of our living room – the three panel wide door was partially obscured by the worlds largest fake mediterranean couch. The slider opened onto a large concrete patio. It had an awning cover salvaged from Grandpa’s house. In addition to the standard issue BBQ grill there were a number of other items on the patio, under the awning protected from the desert sun. Dog food bowls, a giant sewing machine cabinet, a home-made metal forge, mini bike parts, and huge assortment of tools – actually anything that you might need to tinker with at a moment’s notice.

Our covered patio housed a variety of essential items - one never knows when they will need a sewing machine or a pottery wheel.

Our covered patio housed a variety of essential items – one never knows when they will need a sewing machine, a shop vac, or a pottery wheel.

There were always a variety of dogs and other pets. Rabbits, birds, a skunk, quail, ducks – Mom was an easy touch, she rarely said no to a new pet.

Amazing creatures abounded in the great outdoors that lay behind our house on Isabelle Avenue

Amazing creatures abounded in the great outdoors that lay behind our house on Isabelle Avenue – this is Faux Pas playing in the scrap wood pile.

Off to the left there was an old clothes line. After we upgraded to that new-fangled clothes dryer Mom used this area to grow a vegetable garden in. Mom loved to garden, prior to getting the new dryer this farmer’s daughter managed to squeeze strawberry plants or artichokes into the flower beds, so a six-foot-wide patch of the earth was the equivalent of inheriting the family farm. She tilled and weeded everyday until the fall harvest was over.

To the right there the washroom/workshop/storage room/metal shaving museum tucked into the side of the house. Along the fence line there was a barn-shaped metal storage shed – it housed the lawn tools, welding equipment, and possibly all the missing Philips screwdrivers and end wrenches. It was like a vortex. Tools went there to die. On the roof you might find the hide of last year’s deer as Pop experimented with methods for tanning leather.

This is a tanning experiment in the front yard - more successful than the hides left to dry on the roof of the shed.

This is a tanning experiment in the front yard – more successful than the hides left to dry on the roof of the shed. This also served as an impromptu educational exhibit for children walking past our house to the elementary school at the end of our block. Yes, Virginia, that was Bambi. Ahhh the circle of life.

My pop had a foot thick slice from a large pine tree on a stand in the middle of it all. It was a target for us to practice throwing tomahawks at. I know that the tomahawk target is practically standard issue in most backyards – right up there with the BBQ grill. I’m sure there was one in your backyard too.

Tomahawk Target - one of the backyard essentials

Tomahawk Target – one of the backyard essentials

We threw tomahawks and knives several times a week and visited the emergency room at least once or twice a year.

This is not our backyard, but we did this back there. Note Max's way cool waffle stompers.

This is not our backyard, but we did do this back there. Note Ronnie’s form and Max’s awesome waffle stompers.

We always had a dog or three back there so there was always poop to scoop. The dogs back here were “outside” dogs and they included the very creatively named “Goldie.” She  came to our house when I was six and died peacefully under the old clothes line when I was in my early twenties, having lived a full and exciting life. In her prime she had stopped and cornered a burglar who had broken into the house next door. She was a sweet dog as long as you came into the yard through the house. Over the fence or through the gate meant that you were an intruder. This didn’t bode well for the unfortunate meter man who happened to come when no one was home.

This is not Goldie, this is Minka - she spent her formative years in our backyard on Isabelle Avenue.

This is not Goldie, this is Minka – she spent her formative years in our backyard on Isabelle Avenue. A caffeine addict from puppyhood she drank several Big Gulps each day.

All in all it was place of utility and chaos. After a long day of car repair, Budweiser, and New York strips it was the place where many a Saturday night took an interesting turn.

One autumn Saturday we had the whole crew there. Poore Boy, Red, TJ, Tiny – I think they had attempted to repair a car earlier in the day – they may or may not have been successful, I can’t recall. Pops fired up the grill and sent us all out into the backyard with shovels to scoop up the dog poop. He had something different in mind for the evening, and it required a clean yard. After dinner he had us arrange lawn chairs out in the middle of the yard facing the brick wall behind the clothesline. My brothers and I threw a few tomahawks – Pops and the guys had a few more Buds.

Right about dusk Pops showed us what he had up his sleeve. He brought out a 2X4 with 3/4” holes drilled about 12 inches apart. He set up on the ground and placed an emergency candle in each hole. You know, those candles you keep in the pantry in case the power goes out. He lit the candles and announced that we were going to have a candle shoot. We used .22 caliber rifles to attempt to shoot out the flames on the candles. The idea was not to hit the candle and knock it over – the idea was to snip the wick with the bullet, snuffing out the flame.

The idea is to shoot at that little gap between the candle and the flame - poof!

The idea is to shoot at that little gap between the candle and the flame – poof! It’s dark!

Remember – we were not on a farm or out in the country – this is downtown Las Vegas. Oddly, location was not one of the considerations that Pops contemplated when he devised his little spectacle.

Isabelle Avenue is on the left hand side about half way up - perfect spot for a shooting range.

Isabelle Avenue is on the left hand side about half way up – perfect spot for a shooting range.

Everyone, kids included took turns and with a bit of practice, everyone could snip the wick. I know I felt like Annie Oakley the first time I did it. As the evening wore on the guys would shoot a bit, drink a bit, shoot some more. Round by round the snipping became tougher and tougher. By about 9:00 the only ones able to make the shot were me and my brothers. The excitement was wearing off with each miss. Something was needed to liven this party back up and Poore Boy had an idea.

Nothing like a little amplified music to add ambiance to the sound of gunfire.

Nothing compliments the sound of gunfire like amplified music.

He took Red inside and they brought out my brother’s electric guitar and amplifier. Red plugged in the guitar and started playing – he turned the volume up to the max and started playing the Star Spangled Banner – Hendrix style. Poore Boy emerged from the sliding glass door with a 12 gauge. Everyone laughed – you can’t shoot a shotgun in your backyard in downtown Las Vegas! Steve didn’t seem to care. He loaded it up, leveled it at those candles and fired – BOOM! Flames, wax, buckshot – all spattered against the brick wall, with the sound of the shotgun only barely modulated by the national anthem. Their eyes went wide, the guitar went silent – then without speaking they grabbed their guns and ran into the house giggling like little girls. They all sat silently in the living room waiting to hear the sirens that never came.

Here's a shot of a candle shoot in my yard - a safe and legal 4 miles from the city.

Here’s a shot of a candle shoot in my yard – a safe and legal 4 miles from the city.

A family tradition was born that Saturday. At my place there’s a Memorial Candle Shoot every year on or near January 29. There will be grilling, good friends, candles, and gunfire. Guitars of all calibers are welcome. Shotguns are prohibited.

Stop by if you’re in my neck of the woods.

Blood Brothers

The Carters of Isabelle Avenue – ready to rendezvous!

Over a Labor Day weekend in the mid 1970s we went to the Fort Bridger Rendezvous as a family. Pop’s best friend Steve, aka. “Poore Boy” joined us on this adventure. We didn’t have a lodge (teepee) yet. We had been going to rendezvous and shoots and camping in an old cab over camper. We pulled up to the Fort at about 10:00 at night and were politely directed away from the majestic circle of lodges in the parade grounds. Instead we were sent to the other side of the highway. Through a gate, across a cattle guard, and down a rough road – we were told to pull in and find a place. No assigned spaces, no campfire ring, no fires allowed – just any place you could find to pull in and get out-of-the-way without being too far out-of-the-way.


Our first mountain-man abode looked something like this.

In the morning we learned that we had been directed to the infamous “Alcoa Village” – a place between the centuries where those not committed enough to the 1830’s could lay their down heads inside their Mini Winnies or Six-Packs. To get the action we had to climb a step-ladder up and over a barbed wire fence and cross the highway, then it was only about a hundred yards to the lodge circle.


We were aspirational mountain men – we wanted to move out of “Alcoa Village”

The only lights at night were those at the fort. There were no lights to guide you back to Alcoa Village, nothing to light the path the port-a-podies, nothing to mark the location of the step-over along that barbed wire fence except the light of the moon in the Wyoming sky. None of these modern-day mountain men would dream of carrying a period inappropriate flashlight to make the trek – a real frontiersman would be able to backtrack their own moccasin prints in the dark to find his way back to the camper, right?

This is Pop’s pal Meathead (Rick). He is not in this story but this is the only shot I have of Fort Bridger. Rick had such a reverence for history.

After supper we all headed over to the lodge circle. It was stunning. The lodges all were lit like lanterns on the parade grounds. Their campfires glowing from inside. About a half hour after dark Mom sent my brothers and I back to the camper. Wwe complained just a bit, but to no avail – back to the camper while there was still some light left. We went back and went to bed. We were all dressed in our earliest versions of leathers and it seemed odd to leave that circle dressed as we were only to climb into a camper to sleep. We all had red woolen long-handled underwear to sleep in – not so practical in combination with a port-a-pody in the dark, but warm and toasty for sleeping inside the unheated camper.

Toasty warm woolen underwear

Mom had made the trip back to the camper and I had finally fallen asleep in my sleeping bag when I heard a loud thump and a growl. I looked out the window and saw my pop had not quite hit the top rung on the step-over and had his foot tangled in the top wire of the fence. He had fallen face first over the fence with an open bottle of wine in one hand, and he had somehow managed to keep the bottle upright – not spilling a single drop. He was nearly incoherent and probably could not have crossed that fence in the daylight in that state – even then he had his priorities – even if you’re upside-down, make sure you keep the booze right-side-up!

Never spill a drop!

Poore Boy was right behind him – Steve was only about 150 pounds, but he managed to get Pop untangled and upright. Pop did his part – smoothly rotating that open bottle while Steve rotated him back into an upright position. The two men moved to the tail gate of the pickup and decided that rules or no rules, even an Alcoa Camp deserved a real campfire. They scrambled around in the dark in between the other campers looking for firewood and rocks to build a ring, waking up half the camp. By now my brothers and I were up and sitting on the tailgate watching the action.

Pop’s and Poore Boy make fire for the paparazzi

They drank, they foraged, they made fire – even if they were condemned to Alcoa Village, there was no disputing they were powerful mountain men, part of a tribe, even brothers – that’s it! They hit upon the idea that they should become blood brothers. Not tomorrow after they sobered up and bathed, right now at the illegal camp fire in Alcoa Village with no disinfectant save that precious open bottle of wine.

Pops and his big knife

Pops was a big guy and he always carried a big knife when he was playing the part of a mountain man. He pulled his bowie-knife from the sheath on his belt and handed it to Poore Boy. He extended his wrist and Steve sliced it open. Steve handed the knife back to Pops and he did the same to Steve’s wrist. Poore Boy said, “Damn it Harold, that’s not gonna be deep enough, it’s hardly bleeding.” Pops took another swipe at it, and at Steve’s urging a he took third pass. Now it was gushing. I remember seeing the white tendons visible through the open wound on Steve’s wrist. Mom was freaking out looking for the first aid kit that we left on the kitchen counter back in Vegas. Steve and Pops were perfectly calm as they pressed their wrists together over the campfire. Once they were officially blood brothers Pops began to panic Steve was bleeding all over his shirt. He was feeling no pain, but pain wasn’t the immediate problem.

Someone in a neighboring camp made a suggestion – Steve’s wound could be effectively wrapped in something we were bound to find available from one of our neighbors – all we needed was some duct tape and…a maxi pad. Pops took charge and went from camper to camper asking if anyone had a maxi pad – Imagine a 250 pound guy in fringed leathers covered with blood pounding on your door at 3:00 am looking for feminine hygiene products – would you open the door? Finally he found a neighbor willing to open the door who had a pad to spare. They poured some whiskey over the open wound and mom wrapped his wrist with the pad and secured it with duct tape.

Everyone should have this and some maxi-pads in their “Blood Brother” emergency kit!

The next morning we tried to get Poore Boy to go into town and get stitches, but he was having none of it. Instead they sent me and Mom, the women folk, into town to get more pads. Steve spent the rest of the rendezvous wearing his “period appropriate” dressing –  and a blood stained shirt.