Glen Ellen Zen: Keep Both Eyes Open

As a young child, going to Uncle Don and Aunt Treasure’s house in Glen Ellen was always a treat. I got to drink soda there. The backyard was huge and led down to a creek that provided excellent exploring grounds. There was an ever-growing collection of owl figurines to count and decoy ducks to look at. The house was always immaculate–like, you could eat nachos off the carpet. But by far the best part was the Red Ryder BB gun and having Uncle Don show me how to shoot straight and safe.

Uncle Don only bought Copperhead BBs and he kept them with the Red Ryder BB gun in the office. That was where the duck decoys and his gun safe were. I was the only living soul besides him that knew the combination. Loading the BB gun was always a clumsy affair because the BBs came in what ended up being a glorified milk carton, and the loading hatch was 1cm x 1cm at best. Pouring milk is easier than BBs so there were always strays after loading.

“In the house and when you’re not shooting, point the barrel up or down. Keep your finger off the trigger when you walk. Make sure there is nothing behind your target when you shoot.”

Cocking a Red Ryder BB gun is not so difficult with the correct technique. Uncle Don taught me to grab the gun with my left hand by the wooden part next to the barrel pointing it upwards. Next I had to rest the stalk against the inside of my right thigh and with my right hand crank the lever upwards to pressurize the air chamber. It took a little practice but after five minutes I was a pro.

The very first time we went and shot together, we had to calibrate the sights. Uncle Don hung a Mug Root Beer can from the clothes line in the back yard and I started taking shots at it. I had a hard time seeing the flying BB but my uncle’s eagle vision (and 40 years of shooting experience during which he won numerous guns that were stored in his safe) had no problem seeing the 4.5mm copper pellet.

He asked me why I couldn’t see the BB. I thought it was trick question. In reality, it kind of was. Most people’s natural tendency is to shoot a gun with one eye closed, presumably to eliminate any parallax errors in their aim. I am like most people. Uncle Don told me to keep both eyes open but to see out of only one.

Keep both eyes open but see out of only one.

Huh. What the hell does that mean? A warm smile came over his face when he saw the confusion flood mine.

We calibrated the sights and got the Red Ryder shooting true, though I continued to shoot with one eye closed. I was having a great time popping the can (the sound of copper piercing aluminum is very satisfying) while standing, one knee down, prone. Yet, when I missed, he would ask me where I missed.

“Where’d it go?”

Of course I didn’t know because I was shooting half blind and, embarrassed, I guessed.


“Keep your eyes open and you’d know.”

I forced myself to keep my eyes open and missed what felt like a thousand in a row. Then, POP! And I had seen the BB the whole way (20 feet). What an electric feeling! I looked at my uncle with a kind of slack-jawed glaze. He let out a chuckle.

“Didja see it? Do it again.”



Watch out, aluminum.

I never wanted to stop but eventually the BBs ran out, the inside of my thigh was bruised and my right shoulder was sore. By then, too, it was time get going and my mom came out to get us. I ran to the clothes line and untied the can which was now perforated, bent, dinged and generally what you would consider shrapnel-looking. With a triumphant smile I ran back to where mom was and raised the dead soda can like a trophy.

“Can I take it home?”


My bottom lip inevitably jutted out and I ran my finger over the deformed aluminum almost trying to cut myself.

“Aww, don’t worry pahrtna.* Next time you come we’ll do it again.”

And we did. I came to massacre hundreds of soda cans at Uncle Don’s house. All with both eyes wide open.

*partner in Uncle Don talk

A few more Uncle Don talk gems

-It’s tangy. How tangy is it?


-Boy, that’s a tasty little unit

-Howdy pahrtna

Aunt Treasure and Uncle Don


  1. Jenny

    Love how you tell stories… thank you.

  2. Lissett Samaniego

    You are a real story teller, Dustin. Keep them coming! I love to read the ones about your childhood. They are especially touching. I still remember bits and pieces of a story you wrote about your late father’s sandwich-making prowess. What a hoot that was! This one pays tribute to another very important person in your life. It reminds me of the special people in my own life. That’s why your stories resonate. Thank you for sharing.

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