By Francis B. Higdon MMI met the young dad, about 22 years old, and his son, about four, around Christmas time while working in the Yata-Benecito river system in the Amazon watershed of Bolivia some years ago. Since the mayor of the closest town had sent toys for the children, I used to occasion to make conversation with the little one.
“Now what did Papa Noel bring you for Christmas,” I asked. The boy looked up at me and then, hugging the multi-patched pant leg of his dad, put his finger in his mouth and glared at the ground. The father, seeing my sadness at having embarrassed his little one, spoke up: “You know what the mayor tried to give my son? A gun! A little old plastic pistol! Can you imagine giving a son a pistol for a toy? I never want my child to think of a gun as a toy. Later it would be all right with him to shoot somebody just for fun. I threw that thing in the river as soon as he came home with it.”
I immediately thought of myself as a five-year-old growing up in Kentucky. I always wanted to be a priest, but a cowboy priest. At that age I strutted around with my toy pistols, imitating Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. I loved western movies. We would think nothing of somebody getting thrown off his horse and rolling over into the rocks or bushes, or being trampled under a herd of horses or cattle – especially if they were “injuns”. We often played cowboys and Indians in the woods behind the fields of our farm. Little did I realize how my mind was being conditioned for violence.