Introduced in 1927-- the Roaring 20s-- at a time when films were still silent, The Great Gatsby was a brand-new novel, and aeroplanes were still covered in fabric, Colt's Detective Special was one of the first really good snub-nosed revolvers of its day. It beat the S&W Chief's Special to the punch by a couple of decades and, as a six-shot .38 Special, still outdid the five-shot J frame when it came to capacity.
Mine was plopped down on a table, its cylinder open to show it was unloaded, right after I bought my first car. The car? It was a '66 Pontiac LeMans, the kind of all-steel beast that looked like a GTO but, in its partially stripped condition and questionable state of reliability, could be had via $300ish in 1988 dollars, earned by working extra shifts at the local pizza place. Anyway, we are here to talk guns, not Detroit muscle.
"You got a car, you got a .38," I was told by my grandfather. A man who had retired after three decades in the military that saw him serve in exotic-sounding places like Indochina and Persia that no longer existed on the map in the 1980s, he was typically short-spoken.
"By the way, that's your Christmas present," he said, as the holiday was a week away.
"And birthday," because, after all, my birthday was a week after that.
Now don't get me wrong, the revolver wasn't my first projectile-throwing device from Gramps that came on Christmas/Birthmas. That had been a Red Ryder when I was five. This was followed by a single-shot .22 bolt gun a year or two after that, then a crack-barrel H&R 12 gauge, and finally by a surplus Mauser 98K 8mm that was taller than I was-- my first deer rifle. However, the Colt was my first handgun, and was the first firearm intended for something more "adult" than target practice or putting meat in the pot or freezer.
Then came a trip to the local gun club with Gramps with the Colt where the targets changed from the familiar 25-yard B8 bullseye type meatballs to silhouettes and the instruction was different. I was shown how to clean it and made to repeat a set of basic rules on when and how to use it. Simpler times, I guess.
As the primer gray LeMans did not lock-- or even have seats at the time-- the Colt resided in a lockbox in the top of my closet for most of the next couple of years. Finally, back when my state was something like the 10th in the country to adopt a "shall issue" concealed carry system, I applied for what was seriously called by the local press at the time as a "gunslinger permit" (and they published your name in the paper once it was granted!) so I could tote the Colt as needed without running afoul of the law.
Fast forward 30 years and the LeMans is long gone, sold for $400—a profit! In the same vein, the Colt long ago got consigned to the safe as my EDC evolved and shifted to more modern "plastic fantastics" of the sort that do not impress Gramps. He has always had an affinity for .38s for carry purposes, having told me how they came in handy in his travels in decades past.
Now, the "Dick Special" doesn't get carried much, or even see sunlight for that matter, but it remains my favorite Christmas gun.
A couple of years ago, when my mother passed away, in closing out her affairs I came across a blue handwritten card issued to her by the local police department back when Ford was in the White House. The card was for a handgun. A .38-caliber revolver.
When I asked my Gramps about the card as my Mom never told me about owning a firearm, he shrugged and said, "She got a car."