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Minus hand grenades

I’m getting to the age where once common phrases aren’t so common anymore, which means that any attempt at being clever with one is as likely to bomb as it is to connect.

Does anyone know what goes with that headline up above? Anyone? Does it help if you minus the “minus’” and replace it with “and?”

I don’t need to see you to be certain that glimmers of recognition are beginning to flicker in some wrinkle-lined eyes.

However, others surely remain clueless, so I’ll end this feeble attempt at cleverness and spell it out. The phrase that inspired the headline is this:

Horseshoes and hand grenades.

My younger readers will take this as a sign that I’m certifiably off my rocker, but some of my older ones are at this very moment chortling, “Ah ha! I knew it!”

Horseshoes and hand grenades. As one might expect, the phrase has its roots in the military. It’s shorthand for, “Good luck, and I hope you have plenty of ammunition.”

Having now egregiously violated journalistic principles, I’m now ready to tell you, eight tegis paragraphs into this piece, that I’m writing about horseshoes, not hand grenades.

And in another clue to my advancing age, note that “tegis” was beloved Antelope correspondent Marj Nienstedt’s way of writing “tedious.” Raise your hand to get a sticker if you knew we once had a correspondent for Antelope.

On to horseshoes.

The Bill Keith Memorial Hog Roast was Saturday at the Marion VFW post. I suspect Bill would’ve said that “memorial” applied to the hog, not him. Forget the fuss and bring on the pig and barbecue sauce.

Thinking there might be a story to be had, I got there just as folks were warming up for the horseshoe tournament. OK, in the chilly, misty weather, they were actually warming up around the large hog cooker (the apparatus, not the chef) between horseshoe throws.

I crawled over the orange plastic mesh tent and had started shooting photos when I heard someone call out, “Hey, do you want to play? We need another guy.” I looked up, and sure enough, it was me they were after.

I hadn’t tossed a horseshoe since the rubbery plastic red and yellow ones my sisters and I played with as tots, but it looked like fun.

Ah, but I was there for work.

Ooo, but it looks like fun. Yeah, it would be fun.

That’s one of the occupational hazards of journalism: It’s darned near impossible to go to or do anything local and just have fun. We’re always looking for a story, angling for a picture. Even when we’re not assigned to something, getting a scoop is always in the backs of our minds. At times, it’s downright maddening.

Fun won out. The camera landed on a table out of the rain, and fueled by competitive fire and a tasty cereal malt beverage, a rookie horseshoe thrower was born.

Of course, no one told me that when a sand pit is super soggy, you don’t want to be standing directly behind it cheering on your partner as he throws. Lessons taken away about horseshoe-splattered sand were: 1) it travels faster than my mouth-closing reflex operates; and 2) it creates a surprisingly lovely camouflage pattern on a windbreaker.

Meanwhile, I set about honing my skills. Once having won an award for being the most competitive person in a non-competitive activity, I was determined my learning curve would be brief.

Therein, another lesson learned: Determination only erases ineptness with time and practice, neither of which I had. At the end of our first match, Jason Schafers and I had scored just six points, with no ringers.

Our second go was vastly more productive. Falling behind by a dozen, we mounted a comeback for the ages, roaring back to tie the game. Jason did most of the heavy lifting, but I scored my one and only ringer, which of course made the whole endeavor worthwhile.

Alas, once tied, we ran out of gas and dreams and were eliminated. We’ll have to wait until next year to pursue inclusion in the pantheon of horseshoe-throwing immortals.

However, I was right about one thing: It was fun to play without reporting, just hanging out, tossing shoes, and shooting the breeze. I think Bill Keith would have approved; in his stead, his daughter and fellow photographer, Ida French, was happy I put down the camera and jumped in. So was I.

Of course, I still came away with a picture and a cool idea for a story that may or may not pan out. The reporter switch isn’t a simple on-off flip.

If there’s a big lesson in here, it’s familiar with a twist: Savor the moments, enjoy those little slices of life, even when they’re served up with a mouthful of sand.

— david colburn

Last modified May 4, 2017

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