Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I have some experience with that. The first one, anyway. When I was having trouble sleeping I decided to take a trip into the past, when entertainment came primarily from transistor radios and comic books. We played board games and cards. We took long walks in the woods and climbed on rocks. For three months out of the year, we were the Wilderness Family, and my chores included gathering pine cones and kindling. For three months every summer, my bed was a sleeping bag, and the bathroom was a quick trip up the path to the outhouse. And horseshoes were the measure of us all.
I knew this because I watched my father play. He worked on his game. He put a great deal into it because he understood that sooner or later Uncle Marvin would show up and want to pitch a few horseshoes. Uncle Marvin was born to the task of pitching horseshoes. In my mind, he had grown up tossing the horse, shoes and all, at that stake in the distance. Balancing a palomino on one hoof some forty feet away would be his version of a ringer.
Ah, the ringer. Getting both ends of that open circle to slide past the post. So satisfying to hear the clink of metal making any measurement unnecessary. Not that I wouldn't take the ones that had to be determined by laying the straight edge of a horseshoe against the edge or the post to see if the ends had actually made it around. Nor was I anything but gleeful when my shoe knocked my opponent's out of the way. One point for landing a horseshoe's width away. Three points for a ringer.
And two points for a leaner. Ah, that rare bird, when by some trick of physics you were able to land a piece of bent iron standing vertically against the post. I don't know if I ever made one, but I saw them. Uncle Marvin tossed them. So did my dad. And so did my mom.
Horseshoes were a family affair. As the shadows began to lengthen, and the water, kindling and whatever else needed to be hauled to the cabin had been hauled, we headed down toward the meadow where we would spend those late afternoon hours practicing. Our dog would hear the clink of the shoes when we picked them up and begin to do his happy dance. He would not relent until we walked down to the pits and threw. He used the time to catch up on his digging. There was a lot of digging to do back then.
I remember the technique I learned by watching the grownups. I remember letting go too early and having my horseshoe go rolling out of the pit and onto the driveway. I remember letting go too late and having it land with a thud on the grass, still feet from the post. No points for that one. I can remember a time when being close was good enough.
I miss those times.