Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Traditions reflected

Sometimes a single sentence preserves a moment lost to passing time and vanishing traditions.
"What is more wonderful for a boy to learn than trigger magic?"
That was one of three questions posed in the opening paragraph of a Winchester ad published in The New York Times a few days before Christmas, 1919. It urged "all fathers of growing boys" to put an official Winchester Junior Rifle Corps Range Kit under the tree.

The headline addressed young readers, but the copy spoke naturally (and not very subtly) to adults. It began and ended with the phrase "real boy" -- that is, any real all-American boy wanted a rifle. Implicitly, then, any boy who didn't was a pantywaist (and so, probably, was his dad).

Even a century ago, holiday ads tended to be blunt that way.

A couple of months into the next year, Winchester began placing a series of new WJRC-themed ads in outdoors magazines. These were softer, commercially speaking, and focused on different dynamics of the father-son bond. Take this opening question (again, one of three) from a
full-page ad appearing in the February 1920 issue of Outing:
"Has your boy's voice begun to change?"
The copy went on to appeal to a dad's duty to teach his son essential skills -- notably gunhandling and marksmanship, with genuine Winchester .22 rifles, of course -- before the years passed them by.

The approach echoed a Remington ad running at about the same time, as well as the guidance offered by George Brown in the 1917 Forest & Stream article, "Give the Boy a Twenty-Two." I can't help noticing that it also reflects the father-son visions that I wrote about last month.

Traditions wax and wane in a direct relationship to the value placed on them by adult mentors, especially parents. Our kids recognize early-on what's important to us, and we must seize that fleeting moment.

By the time teenage rebellion kicks in, trust me, it's too late.