Margaret Blackwood captures a place and time where horseshoes are lucky, win or lose, and life is good.
One Saturday afternoon in July we joined some friends at a campsite on a little beach off the beaten track in Metchosin, British Columbia.
When we pulled in I could see the ocean, a sandy shore. There were tents and trailers, coolers on wheels, bundles of firewood, lanterns and twinkle lights. Oh my!
We were greeted at the car by a golden retriever with one eye, and a Heinz 57 with a limp, the momentum of its tail surpassing its hind quarters, almost bringing it down. And there was a cat (look, a cat!) sitting happily on a welcome mat outside one of the trailers.
I was in heaven. Dogs and cats, footballs and Frisbees, sun and sand. I love sand. Sand in the car. Sand on the floor that says you’ve just been somewhere. The more sand in your bathtub, the more fun you’ve had.
Our friends’ trailer was snuggled neatly into a spot beside a Fifth Wheel belonging to some friends of theirs. I hadn’t met the folks with the Fifth Wheel yet, but I knew they played horseshoes and was curious to meet them and give horseshoes a try, perhaps.
Everyone was sitting together, kicking back and having drinks in front of the bigger camper when we arrived. We were welcomed like long lost family and I was charmed by their ease and graciousness as they offered us snacks, something to drink, a spot to sit.
One of my new acquaintances was wearing a T shirt illustrated with a drawing of a smiling stick figure standing beside a tent trailer, with the words “Life is Good” printed underneath it.
“I’ve got ‘em all,” she said, when I admired it. “Life is good,” she added. “Enjoy today. You never know what tomorrow will bring.”
“Here, here,” someone said.
“So what’s up for the afternoon?” I was asked.
“Well,” I said, “I’d heard they played horseshoes… Where were the shoes? Was there a pitch?”
This started a flurry of activity. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on.
“This calls for more drinks,” one fellow said, and disappeared into the trailer. Two others jumped up and ran off.
“Where are they going?” I asked our friend Wendy.
“To check the tide,” she answered.
Okay… I thought, not quite understanding what was happening.
“We have time for two games if we hurry,” one woman exclaimed when she returned. “Get the shoes! Get the chairs! Come on! Come with us!”
I grabbed my ball cap and followed them to the beach.
Earlier that day there had been a wedding on the shore. Campers and beach goers had pulled up their lawn chairs and watched the ceremony from the campgrounds: an audience of strangers, some of whom had apparently been moved to tears.
The driftwood alter was still there, and now the reception was in full swing at the Bed and Breakfast up on the property next door to the campgrounds. Good music, good rock and roll, was playing and wedding guests were spilling onto the beach.
My new acquaintances had a purpose-built carrying case with them and were now opening it on the sand. Inside, laid out in Styrofoam nests were two sets of real, honest-to -oodness horseshoes, and a pair of iron posts. Uh, oh.
“Are you sure?” I said. “You’re not worried about the salt water?” (I worry about rust, what can I say?)
“Nah,” someone answered.
Someone else had brought a mallet. Chairs were unfolded, drinks and ashtrays set down. Two minutes is all it took. The space between the posts was paced out by the man from the trailer who was clutching a mojito in a fancy plastic goblet. The goals were delineated with driftwood. And we were ready to play.
My parents forbade horseshoes when I was a child; it wasn’t quite taboo, but it was close. Consequently, it was something I’d always wanted to try. Now here I was, some 40 years later, finally getting around to it.
A barefoot little girl in a pink dress noticed the horseshoes and came charging down the shoreline toward us. “Let me throw one, let me throw one,” she chanted, causing all nearby adults to crane their necks like parent ducks, keenly aware of the clear and present danger.
“Hang on, hang on, don’t drop it on your feet,” I chimed in with the others, as she pried the horseshoe from my fingers.
Remember when you were a kid and everything became a lesson? Remember the initial feeling of excitement when there was a new game to play; the feeling of urgency when you just wanted to do the game? The let down when all it amounted to was just another lesson, when the sheer joy of doing was overshadowed by the constraints of rules and regulations? “Can’t we just play? We don’t want a game. We just want to play. Do we have to learn everything?”
Well, this girl would have none of it. She snatched the horseshoe, hefted it onto the post and ran off. Next! She was off to tackle some other new thing. She wouldn’t spend decades waiting for another opportunity to “play” horseshoes. It was over and done with, plain and simple. Horseshoes demystified in one easy thud.
On my second or third throw I actually did hit the post. Not too shabby. Those suckers are heavy, incidentally. Everyone kept urging me on; even my opponents seemed as excited as I was.
“Step forward, put one foot in front of the other. Follow through with your arm. Follow it with your eye, imagine it. Imagine getting a ringer. Imagine it!” they coached me.
Hah, I thought. Look at me now. A cloudless sky, the waves rolling in as I stood in the tide, getting pointers on how to throw a perfect shoe. What a gas!
There it was. I got a ringer. I thought I would. I hate heights, can’t ski worth a damn. I’ve been known to sit down smack dab in front of a rope bridge and refuse to budge, but hell, give me horseshoes, give me lawn darts, a soft ball, and I may just surprise you. The old hand-eye works for me.
A cheer went up.
I felt better than I had in months. An impromptu game of horseshoes on the beach, a simple game of skill, concentration, was all it took. The sun on my shoulders, laughter, music, friendship.
I noticed that my kids, alerted by the cheering, were now watching us from the bank above the beach.
“Look at me! Look at me!” I hollered.
…Life is good.
“Horseshoes II” Goombay @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.