Guns in the attic

Wesley’s mother was beautiful and his father was insane. His mother came to all of the King Low Heywood School  soccer games. Our coaches tried to hide the fact that they were looking at her, but they were all stealing glances whenever they thought the kids were not watching. She had a natural beauty which was unusual in those days. She used no makeup and never wore any sexy clothing, but somehow that only made her more beautiful. She had long auburn hair and a slim athletic build. She never seemed aware of the impact she had on the men around her. She was always wonderfully nice to everyone. She was so sweet that the other mothers, instead of being jealous of her looks loved being her friends.

Wesley’s father was an advertising executive in New York. He took the train in all the way from Royaton ever day, so that his family could live near the beach. His specialty was products aimed at kids like toys, cookies, candies and the like. He invented Nabisco’s “Cookie Man”. The fact that he was insane was probably a great help in his profession.

Wesley, his parents and his  brothers lived in a big barn of a house. Like many of the houses in Royaton it was freezing cold in the winter. The houses near the beach had all originally been built as summer homes. It never occurred to the builders that people would live there year-round. That’s why the houses had almost no insulation, and very minor heating systems.

I found out his father was insane when I spent one Saturday at Wesley’s house. I helped Wesley and his brother put the finishing touches on model airplanes they were building. There was a B-17 and a German fighter plane. They had done a wonderful job building them, with no glue splotches, and all of the decals perfectly straight. They had even put in miniature pilots.

When the last decal was on, the dad came in and said, “Well fellows, let’s try them out.” Wesley picked up the model planes and their father pulled down the stairs to the attic.

We all climbed up the stairs and I was amazed at what I saw. From the ceiling hanging on strings was a miniature air force. German and Allied model aircraft all of World War II vintage were suspended from stings hooked to the ceiling. There must have been forty or more model airplanes. They were positioned in such a way that it looked like a full scale air battle was going on.

But the strange part was the mattresses. There were hundreds of them in the attic. They covered every part of the floor and walls. They were three, four and in some places five mattresses deep.  Wesley and his brother bounced over the mattresses until they found the perfect spots to hang their new model airplanes from the ceiling. I thought we would be going back downstairs after that, but the dad lead us over to the far side of the room where a wooden workbench was set up.  He then opened a long box next to the bench and took out a .22 caliber rifle and proceeded to load it.

He placed the loaded rifle on the workbench and then handed each of us what he called “shooters’ safely glasses” and told us to put  them on. “Remember-safety first boys”, he said. I did not know much about rifles or shooting equipment, but I did know that what he handed us were swimmers’ goggles. We also got safety equipment for our ears. These were balls of cotton with strings attached to them.

We each got a turn with the rifle. The goal was simple. Try to shoot down the German fighter planes, without hitting any of the Allied bombers. As Wesley and his brother  took turns shooting, I was petrified. What if a bullet bounced off a rafter and came back to hit one of us? What if a bullet went through the mattresses in the floor and killed Wesley’s lovely mother who was in the kitchen making cookies for all of us?

Then they handed the rifle to me. I didn’t want to do it at first, but the three of them encouraged me. Turns out it’s a lot harder to hit a model airplane then it looks, especially when you are aiming through scratched swimmer’s goggles.

But it happened. A perfect shot. After several misses, I fired a  .22 caliber round which  blew to pieces a German fighter with a red swastika on its tail. The Allied bombers around the fighter were untouched. Everyone cheered. It was thrilling.

I never told my parents about what we did at Wesley’s that day. I knew my father would have gone berserk, and my mother would have made a lot of “concerned” phone calls which would have caused  trouble for everyone. Wesley’s whole family may have been crazy, but I liked them.

Wesley married and became an Episcopal priest.  He and his wife has also spent time in the Peace Corps in Africa. I recently got the very sad news that Wesley Wubbenhorst had passed away. I still find it hard to accept. His “joie de vivra” always made him more alive that anyone  else. I never really knew what became of his parents. I like to think they spent their golden years in a luxury retirement community where the old men secretly  glanced at Wesley’s mother, while Wesley’s father shot at model boats floating in the community pool.

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