Life cut short by a shot from a rifle

My friend Reuben was restless, always moving, like a prairie breeze... That restless prairie breeze was now forever stilled.

Letter writer reflects on a friend who died at the hands of a rifle.

My friend Reuben was restless, always moving, like a prairie breeze.

The first time I laid eyes on him he was hurrying diagonally across Grand Avenue in Castor, Alberta, toward the Crest Theatre.

It was a summer evening and I was standing in front of the theatre doors waiting for them to open.

Reuben was friendly and talkative, and we struck up a conversation. I can’t remember where he had come from, but he lived with his father, brother, and grandmother.

At one point, Reuben and his brother lived with their grandmother (they called her “granny”) in an apartment above one of the old stores on Grand Avenue.

Granny – tobacco chewing, skirts to the floor – tried to discipline Reuben, to get him to do his chores and to spend time at home, but he had his own agenda, and it didn’t have much room in it for restraints.

One thing that could hold Reuben’s attention for a time was television, and because his family, like many others, didn’t have a TV set, he would spend time in the furniture store watching one of theirs.

Another place you might find him would be with the group of men who congregated at Leo’s Café to talk and drink coffee.

Sometimes at our house he would sit by the comic book box and read, or, in response to my mother’s request, he would sing Hank Locklin’s “Geisha Girl.”

I stayed at Reuben’s place one time, on a farm which had no electricity.

During the night Reuben decided to get up and light the kerosene lantern. For some reason, I had the matches, and I didn’t want to give them to Reuben.

In anger he went into the closet and brought out his dad’s lever-action rifle. I knew the rifle was loaded because Reuben had shown it to me earlier. Reuben levelled that rifle at me and in angry tears told me to give him the matches.

Looking into the bore of that rifle, the only problem I had was to force my shaking hands to do what I willed to do. I have sometimes wondered what Reuben would have done had I refused.

Reuben’s life was hard. I don’t know what had happened to his mother, but he didn’t have that moulding influence, that love, which he should have had.

His father could be downright mean, as I saw for myself one day when Reuben and I were playing at the sandpit near the auction mart.

Reuben was supposed to be somewhere else – probably at home – and because he had disobeyed, his dad lashed him with a thick rope. There was nothing I could do to help my friend.

My family moved away to another town, and although I did see Reuben again after that, I finally lost touch with him.

He wrote me once to let me know how he was doing.

I also heard that he had had an accident while running farm equipment and had badly damaged one of his thumbs. Though he received medical care for the injury, he never took proper care of the thumb, and he lost it.

One day I received a letter, and in it was an obituary column. It was Reuben’s.

It gave the customary brief details of his life and death, but it was only later through friends that I learned more of how he had died.

He had gotten involved with a woman whose boyfriend was in jail. When the man got out, he confronted the woman with a rifle.

Reuben stepped between them and was shot. I don’t know if it was accidental or deliberate, but for Reuben it didn’t matter.

I think back to the incident at his place and how in his anger and frustration he resorted to threatening me with a loaded rifle, and how, in the end, bitterly ironic, it was from a rifle shot that he died.

That restless prairie breeze was now forever stilled.

Ken Anderson is a lawyer with a practice in Terrace, B.C.

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