When I was 16 I spent a month living with a wonderful family splat in the middle of France. The village where they spent their summers was tiny. Really tiny. It was composed of about 70 people, all of whom were related in some way or another, so, as an extraneous bit of DNA in their midst, it was hard to know what to do with myself or how to fit in.
Every night in this tiny village one of the families hosted a soiree, a party that usually started in the middle of the afternoon and went on well into the night, usually involving the cooking of a whole animal and the preparation of innumerable side dishes and desserts, and seemingly endless informal chatting and gossiping.
I tried to help the ladies with the cooking, but I just didn’t have the social graces or the patience to do that kind of meticulous artisanship and socializing every afternoon. So, not infrequently, I would sneak off to behind the barn where the men of the village would be gathered, drinking pastis and shooting revolvers at paper targets fluttering on a clothesline way in the distance.
Each time I watched I would beg my French surrogate father, whom we’ll call Monsieur Belleville, for a shot, and each time he would respond “Non Non Non, c’est pas pour des filles.” No, no, no, it’s not for girls.
Well, one day I couldn’t take the refusal any more. I said the most horrible thing I could have said to Monsieur Belleville, who happened to have been a high officer in the French army before his retirement. I said, “Monsieur, I understand why you don’t want me to take a shot. My last name is German, and everyone knows that the Germans shoot better than the French.”
At this my dear Monsieur Belleville blanched, shot me a horrified look, and handed me his revolver.
Somewhere in my calculations I somehow thought a mini-lesson would be involved, but after my rude ploy clearly that was not going to happen. Trembling, with no idea whether the gun was cocked or how to cock it, or how to hold it or anything, I shambled up to the shooting line, stuck my arm out toward the tiny targets in the distance, clamped my eyes shut, and squeezed the trigger.
For a second I thought the bullet had shot backwards and up my arm, so powerful was the recoil. My glasses flew off and I nearly dropped the gun to nurse my painful arm. I was mortified by my poor form. When I finally opened my eyes I saw the men looking very upset, signaling to one another.
One of them had grabbed the target paper and was running toward us. Only two shots that day had even made it onto the paper, no less the target itself. Mine was the one splat in the middle of the bullseye. Nobody could quite believe it, and those men were not liking this one bit.
“Prenez un autre!” Take another shot, they demanded. To which, in my inimitable teenage assholery I replied, “Messieurs, you offered me one shot and I took it. You insult me to suggest I would need another.” And with that I turned on my heel and headed back to the kitchen to resume the fine art of stuffing profiteroles, where the guns only shot pastry cream.