House Racing

I’ve been trying to remember what sorts of activities we used to participate in before video games. I remember racing around the outside of the house. Our house was set into a hill, and sometimes, when the cousins were over, we would time ourselves running around it. It was dusk, on one particular evening, and I had forgotten something very important. A few weeks earlier, my dad had bought a regulation horseshoe pitching set, and charged me with the task of laying out the court between our house and our neighbor’s. It was a massive set: 2 ½ pound cast iron horseshoes, and 1-inch steel bars to be driven deep into the ground so that only 15 inches remained above ground, leaning slightly forward, and 40 feet apart. The “clink-clink” of a ringer is a satisfying sound.
But, on that weekend, the cousins were over, and someone wanted to race. We always used a crude timing device: a Timex watch with a sweep second hand. The only persons with stop watches, back then were horse trainers, and track coaches. The first LED digital watch, the Pulsar, had not yet been marketed, and when it was, it would cost over $2000 for a device that only told the time when you used your free hand to press the display button. No, we used the Timex sweep second hand, which invariably caused observational difficulties. It wasn’t hard to differentiate between the thirty-second runs of the younger kids, and the ten second runs of the older teens, but there were no tenths, or hundredths of a second, either. It took some rather subjective interpretation, and charges of “Cheater!” sometimes, to determine the winner. It was best, therefore, to leave the timing up to a single individual, which was usually Michael, because he didn’t like to run, and he had a watch.

It was always best to start at twelve, three, six, or nine on the dial, so I’m sure I heard something that night like, “Aach! Just missed it. I’ll get the next one. Okay, here we go…ten seconds…five…three, two, one, Go!”

And, I was off! Under the first tree, down the hill, across the driveway to the corner of the garage. There, you made a decision: slow down enough to make a sharp right to reduce the overall distance, or blast around the corner at full speed, in an arc that would carry you all the way around to the backyard hill. I “blasted” that night. Big mistake.

Midway into the arc, with my dusk-challenged eyes blurrily focused on rounding the back corner, my right foot landed adjacent to the forgotten horseshoe stake. As my left foot came flying by to meet its destiny, the force of the impact ripped my favorite blue Ked’s sneaker completely off my foot, and sent me into an immediate faceplant with the grass.
I think I said, “Ow.”

Well, okay, I probably said more than that, but I did not say, “Owie, owie, owie,” or scream like a girl. I do, however, remember thinking, “OH……….. Yeah…….. Stupid…….. Idiot!” —all before my face even hit the ground.

I did writhe in pain, grab my foot, and moan and roll a lot. When I did not complete the course in my allotted ten seconds, I had cousins to the rescue, and soon a whole assortment of adult assistance as well. However, once it was determined that my foot was not actually broken, only strained and badly bruised, I’m pretty sure I heard worse than stupid and idiot from that same adult assistance crowd.

Then, “Okay, all you kids get in the house now! It’s dark out here.”

“And no more racing around the house!”

“These things are dangerous! You could get hurt!”

Sheesh! Talk about overkill. And like any of the rest of us would need to be reminded. Now, I had adults mad at me, kids mad at me, my foot throbbing (it would be tender for a couple of weeks), and to top it all off, I had just ruined my favorite pair of worn-in-with-holes-here-and-there, comfortable, never-take-em-off, stink-like-a-locker-room, teenage-wardrobe-necessity sneakers. What a crappy night. Stupid stake.

We actually used that horseshoe set a lot over the years, after that, and nobody else ever got hurt. We didn’t use sand around the pit, though, so there were plenty of times when people had to jump out of the way of a rolling 2 ½ pound horseshoe. I even won a third place ribbon at the Mississippi Valley Fair one year for a picture I snapped (with a Kodak Instamatic, no less) of that same stake poking out of a big mud puddle after a rain. Okay, there weren’t very many entries in that category that year (three, I think), but it was still a ribbon.

Note: The title picture is not my long lost, ribbon winning picture of forty years ago, but is instead, from a wonderful blog piece I came across, about spending time with your dad. Visit it at

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2 Responses to House Racing

  1. kkcarver says:

    Hi Charley. You reminded me of how all the men in my family played horseshoes at every family get together, weather permitting, of course;) I learned to stay the heck out of the way of whoever was throwing!

  2. Lauri meyers says:

    I would fish or try to pull trash out of the lake. One day I got stuck up to my knees in whatever that murky stuff is at the bottom of small ponds. I thought I was done for. I finally managed to extract myself but I had to leave my dads wading boots behind.

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