As always, we gathered at the Union Chapel Community Center. Where? Well, as a former major-leaguer who made his off-season home in Union Chapel once explained to curious TV announcers — it’s exactly between Carrollton and Aliceville. That should pinpoint it, right?
The highlight of the reunion — besides the overwhelming amounts of amazing food — is the annual horseshoe tournament.
Our immediate family always competes, though it has yet to earn a spot on the wall of champions, where winning two-man teams are memorialized. Did I mention the winning team shares a trophy?
Once the teams are drawn from a list of competitors — just to keep it fair for unskilled players like me — an erasable marker board is employed to sketch pairings for this double-elimination tournament.
We were just about ready to get started when someone noticed the first-round competitors didn’t have enough horseshoes. Not to worry. Another contestant went to his car only to return with a silver suitcase, containing two sets of very shiny horseshoes, one painted gold and the other silver. It was the first sign that I was in serious trouble.
The second sign came during a close call on scoring. A cousin whipped out a tape-measure from his pocket to precisely pinpoint which horseshoe was closer to the stake. A crowd of spectators and competitors gathered around our self-appointed scoring judge to get a glimpse for themselves.
The mood was generally light during the first round. Given Team Davis’ mediocre performance, our opponents were probably straining to contain their giddiness at such an easy first-round draw. That said, we were better than previous years, especially the time when a member of our family who shall remain unnamed made such a wild toss that it got a ringer on a leg of the barbecue grill a dozen feet from the action.
Perhaps the most basic problem is that we possess only the vaguest sense of how to keep score. Therefore, we must rely on the integrity of our opponents to tell who scored with each pitch. (Luckily, Carsons and Lees are extremely trustworthy, especially when it comes to something as serious as pitching horseshoes.)
At some point, as our opponents were running (tossing?) away from us, I began to wonder how all my relatives acquired such refined horseshoe-pitching techniques.
“You know, I really should practice before signing up for the tournament,” I thought to myself. “Maybe if I was better, everyone wouldn’t back up an extra couple of feet every time I get ready to pitch.”
By the elimination game, our opponents were getting so many ringers that it sounded like the dinner bell was being sounded again.
My mind began to drift to things more important than horseshoes, like getting this over with so I could get back to the kitchen for more peach cobbler.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.