On a picturesque fall afternoon in 2009, I shot a nice whitetail buck. When it fell, I sat on my little stool and looked at my rifle. I was having a bit of trouble seeing right then, so I closed the shooting house window and wiped the tears from my eyes. Of all the firearms I have owned over the years, this rifle is the most precious. My good friend and mentor, George Effenberger, had willed it to me when the cancer finally beat him in April.
George was quite a guy, the kind of man, it seems to me, they don’t make a lot of anymore. Born in San Francisco in 1928, he graduated from high school at age 16 and promptly joined the Merchant Marines. In 1948, George enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, became a staff sergeant, and fought in the infamous Chosin Reservoir campaign during the Korean War, about which he never said much except that it was damn cold. He left the Marines right after war, founding a small trucking company. Then he went back to school, obtaining his Juris Doctorate by going to mostly night school, and later founded his own business, Power Engineering, which made him a lot of dough. Along the way he met Beth on the beach in southern California; they were married 52 years.
A tremendous golfer, George took pity on me the first time he saw me try to swing a club. Seems like just about every week we would go to the driving range to hit a bucket of balls. Those little trips were about much more than hitting balls, though. We’d smack a few, then sit on a bench and rest. Mostly, we sat and talked. We talked about anything and everything, from politics to business, family to finance. We talked about good books and fine wine and delicious food and places we’d both been. He always asked me about my hunting trips, and wanted me to take him shooting. It was here on that little bench that our bond grew stronger, and I learned a lot about what an incredible man he was. He helped me focus by teaching me lessons I had learned earlier, but as happens to many of us, I had forgotten over the course of my life.
He reminded me that, in life in the richness of America, is it easy to be fooled by the false promises of easy success and happiness that tempt us all, but that these are not the important things in life. He reminded me of what he believed to be the things you actually need to live life well. Among them: taking care of those you love and letting them know they’re loved, and holding firm to your religious faith, whatever it may be and no matter how high you rise or low you fall. He reminded me of the importance of honoring one’s calling, no matter what it might be, by trying to do within it honorable work, which takes hard effort, and a willingness to master the ethics of that field while always giving 110 percent. And last but certainly not least, he reminded me of how very important it is to enjoy life, to take time to stop and smell the roses, something that can be very hard in America when you’re immersed in a culture that celebrates “more,” but not necessarily “better.”
During the days that I was driving him to his radiation treatments, George also reminded me that life is a journey, and that all journeys come to an end. And that those who succeed and are happiest are those who never forget the past and are able to learn from their own mistakes and the mistakes of others, yet do not dwell on them. He reminded me of something that old major league ballplayer, Satchel Leroy Paige, once said when asked if he was too old to be pitching in the major leagues: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
George’s old .30-06 is indeed a classic, a Remington 1924 Model 30 Express. Approximately 22,800 were produced between 1926 and 1941, chambered in .30-06, .25 Rem, .30 Rem, .32 Rem, .35 Rem, 7mm Mauser, and .257 Roberts. The serial numbers ranged from 00001 to 30560. The serial number on George’s rifle is 9765, and while the good folks at Remington could not tell me exactly when it was made, one has to assume it was built before 1930.
I took it out of the safe the other day, and it started up again, that feeling of sadness. I could feel the tears wanting to come, and I had to fight them back. I couldn’t figure out why. After all, George had lived a very long, fruitful and productive life. Along the way he helped a lot of people, and he had few regrets. His journey had come to an end, to be sure sooner than any of us had wanted it to, but it had been a good ride. And then it came to me, a simple answer, really — I just miss my friend.
Then I thought, what an honor he had bestowed upon me, leaving to me his prized .30-06. By taking it hunting I was returning the honor the best way I knew how. My grief was far from over, but the healing had certainly begun. Every time I take it to the range or into the field — and it will be often — it is nice to know that George is still with me, if only in spirit. Life sure would be lonesome without him.