The following are two stories that have a lot in common. However one of them is a narrative essay by virtue of having a thesis/point/moral. Ask your student to decide which of the two is an essay. You might also ask him/her to pick out sensory words scattered throughout the stories.
Guns and Fun
I wanted a b-b gun so bad when I was nine years old. The kind my cousin Vince had — a Winchester model like in the cowboy movies. One day we went to visit his family on the west side of town. Vince wasn’t home at the time. But I knew where he kept his gun. I barely kissed my aunt Connie before running down in the basement. I pulled out his gun, aimed at a bare light bulb on the ceiling and shot. I was really surprised when the bulb shattered. I guess I thought the b-b would just go through the bulb like it did through paper targets.
The noise of falling glass brought all the adults down to the basement. There I stood with the smoking gun. I was mostly embarrassed that I had been rude, had used my cousin’s gun without asking him, and couldn’t figure out that a bulb would break if you shot it. But mostly I was excited thinking of all the other experiments I could conduct finding out what happens when other things are shot.
I got my Christmas wish. My friend Kenny and I spent the rest of our holiday break in my attic shooting at various targets pinned on a box of old clothes. We must have shot 500 b-bs into that box. My Mom later gave the box full of clothes to Goodwill. I wonder what the person thought when they went to put on a sweater and b-bs rolled all over the floor. We experimented with other targets. Don’t shoot at a stack of screens. You’ll have mosquitoes in your room next summer. Apples aren’t any fun. But plastic airplane models hung on a string dance like crazy when shot by ground artillery.
But after a while we got tired of shooting at still targets. So we put on our coats, opened the back window in the attic and looked for moving targets. Like Mr. Jack’s cats. We didn’t much like him. He was all the time hollering at us and wiping his runny nose on his sleeve. Sure enough, one of his cats was sunning itself on top of a black roofed garage across the alley. The rancher was about to shoot the cattle-eating mountain lion. I could see the b-b curve through the air and land about five feet from the cat. Then Kenny shot and the b-b landed closer. This time the cat looked up. I shot. The cat stretched and yawned. He looked around trying to find what had disturbed his nice nap. Ken’s turn. He must have got it right because the cat yowled, jumped off the roof and ran behind a garbage can. Now we were really excited. On the prowl for other game. Little wrens flitted back and forth across the yard. Perfect. We shot and we shot and we shot till our noses got blue with cold and my Mom yelled about the cold air coming into the house. We shot all that winter after school and on Saturdays.
One Spring day, I put some crackers on the roof of the garage. More birds than usual came by and I shot and shot and shot. And then it happened. I nailed a fat little wren. It flopped over. Fluttered its wings. Rolled off the roof and fell to the ground. I was stunned. I didn’t think I would ever hit one, let alone kill it. I went outside and knelt next to the little bird. I felt bad. I started to tell myself or God or someone that I didn’t mean it. That it was an accident. I had been playing Sylvester and Tweety bird, see. I didn’t realize this would happen, that I would feel this way. But I had been shooting for months. It was hardly an accident. Strangely, I couldn’t bring myself to touch the bird. I got a shovel. Dug a small hole. Lifted the bird with the shovel and buried it. Then I put the shovel away. Then I put the gun away.
Wrens, Turkeys and Rabbits
The fat wren tipped over. Fluttered its wings. Rolled off the roof and fell to the ground. I was stunned. I hadn’t thought I would ever hit one, let alone kill it. I knelt next to the little bird. I felt bad, started to tell myself or God or someone that I didn’t mean it. That it was an accident. I hadn’t realized that this would happen. Why did I feel so bad?
When you live on the east side of Detroit in an Italian neighborhood, you didn’t see much wildlife. And yet, years later, when I saw a movie about a Bushman of the Kalahari praying to an animal he had just killed, I knew what he was feeling when he apologized to his victim for taking its life. Only I didn’t have any good reason for killing that bird and I felt terrible. Strangely, I couldn’t bring myself to touch the bird. It was part of another world. The world of wild things. I got a shovel. Dug a small hole. Lifted the bird with the shovel and buried it. Then I put the shovel away. Then I put the gun away.
Killing the bird wasn’t the same as shooting at Mr. Jack’s cats. His cats were fun to shoot at. They were as grouchy as he was and just wanted to be left alone to sun themselves on the black tar roof just across the alley from my upstairs attic window. Invariably, it would take a few shots to get the range since the B-Bs had a curved trajectory over that distance. Eventually a shot would land on the roof next to cat, just enough to get it to raise it’s head and look around for the source of the disturbance. The next shot would score and the cat would leap from the roof in one bound, gone for the rest of the day.
See, that’s what I was trying to do with the birds. Tweak them. Not kill them.
It wasn’t that I had never seen animals killed. Like the time when the Italo-American club had a Thanksgiving Day raffle. The big wheel with nails stuck around the outer edge clicked slower and slower until it landed, with a breath jarring tick on my number. People shouted for my Grampa who was playing pinochle in the back room. He was proud of me that night. He told me that he had never won anything in his life and now I had won something for him. I still can still see him walking ahead of me on the way home, his tweed suit collar turned up against the cold, his floppy golf hat slouched over one ear and the turkey tucked under his arm looking back at me. The turkey stayed in the coal bin for a week until, in a matter of fact way, Grampa twisted its neck. Gramma dunked the carcass in boiling water and pulled off all the feathers singeing the tiny small ones over the gas stove leaving the smell of burnt hair in the cellar. The turkey, my turkey, looked so beautiful and golden brown for Thanksgiving dinner and I had made it all possible.
I had seen animals killed. I had shot rabbits, hunting with my uncles. Why was I so squeamish about touching that tiny wren? Why did I feel so bad about killing it?
Rabbits. It was always my job to skin and dress them after a long day in the field. Gramma would open the door to the back porch and remind me to put the backs in one pile so she could marinate them in her special garlic-tomato sauce. That’s what the difference was. I was helping us eat.