Through my late teens and early 20s, my family owned and operated a coin operated laundromat in the northwest side of town. It was a small business run by my father. He did everything from morning till night except on the weekends, when either my sister or myself would help. The neighborhood was working class and relatively safe during the day, but at night other elements would come out. There were the occasional arguments, drunken fights, blaring car alarms and slow moving vehicles with groups of hard looking young men.

Two to three times a week my father would empty the coin boxes from the machines. He was no fool. He did it after closing with the lights dimmed and never on the same days. My father then hid the change in an old, gutted toolbox as he carried it out to his car. He knew someone might be watching and took every measure to be careful. I would always tease him of being paranoid. One night I even turned on the lights while he was cashing out the machines and he screamed at me to turn them down. I just shook my head. Why would anyone rob us?

It was a Saturday night, when I was 17, and we had just finished closing up. My father had cashed out the machines and carried the toolbox to the front. It was winter so I went outside to warm up the car. Our car was parked in the small lot directly to the side of the laundromat and after starting it I headed back inside. My father asked if I saw anyone suspicious outside. I honestly hadn’t paid attention, I was more concerned with the freezing temperature. I just mumbled, “No, nobody.” He gave me a look of disdain and organized a few of the following day’s early pick-ups of full service laundry and then we headed out in the cold.

Subzero winter nights, even on Saturdays, are fairly desolate in this city. When we walked out to the parking lot we were the only ones in sight. We were just about at the car when I heard the sound I’ll never forget. It was the rapid crunching sound of snow being crushed by heavy feet, running. I turned towards the alley and saw them, two men in full parkas. One had a ski mask and the other a baseball cap and scarf over his face and they were running right at us. The one with the cap wasn’t armed but the other had a crowbar in his right hand. Before I could react or even yell for help my father dropped the toolbox and whipped out his small, stainless steel .38 Special revolver from his pocket. He lunged, pointing it right at them. They both tried to stop dead in their tracks, but the snow caused them to slip and slide right on their butts. They both said words that I cannot repeat in print and scrambled back on their knees and hands, and ran back into the alley out of sight. Petrified, I could not move. I just stared at my father with the revolver still outstretched in his hand ready to fire. I didn’t even know he had a gun.

After what seemed like an eternity, he slowly put the gun back in his pocket and picked up the toolbox. We got in the car and drove home in silence. I would later learn the gun, a Smith & Wesson Model 66 .38 Special, was given to him by my uncle after concerns my father had over safety at the laundromat. My father wasn’t a gun enthusiast or target shooter, just a man who knew the realities of the world and did what was necessary to protect himself and his family.
I will never forget that lesson.

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