Getting-ready games are a parasitical genus of recreational activities which infest all minor-minor or way-out-in-left-field sports. (For example, Shrew Breeding, a relatively uncomplicated minor-minor, has two officially recognized, demanding getting-ready games: Baiting the Shrew and Shrew Taming.)
In the 1930s my family set out to play the left-field sport of Archery Golf. A predilection for minor-minor sports taints our line as degeneracy marks the Jukes. A gaggle of aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and fianc�s congregated for economic reasons (they were all broke) on the shores of a shallow Michigan lake where in easier times my grandfather had bought and developed a sandy quarter section. It was a halcyon time for minor-minor sports. We had iceboaters, frog giggers, aquatic croquet players, rock hounds, lawn bowlers, a badger baiter and a black bear tamer, among the more describable left-fielders.
Initially we had one archer, my Uncle Bryan. At that time archery was still sufficiently minor to appeal to my kin, and we commenced the necessary getting-ready games. We hewed the Osage orange and hickory, dried the wood, shaped the bows, tipped the arrows, collected the feathers and braided the bowstrings. Somebody's boyfriend was on a Jack London jag and read that the finest bowstrings were woven from human hair. Immediately a squad of uncles set out after a pale, timid second cousin, a girl distinguished only by a luxuriant swatch of hair that hung to her waist. The clash between the child's mother and the avid fletchers was awesome. The girl escaped unshorn, but the experience so unsettled the mother that she fled to San Diego, taking the crowning glory with her.
By spring everyone had a bow, or rather bows, target bows, hunting bows, ladies' bows, junior bows, bows to use when the wind was from the northwest, hot-weather bows. Shortly, however, the joys of shooting at targets, water snakes, spawning carp and duckboats began to pall. Then somebody (no one ever confessed) heard about or conceived Archery Golf. Archery Golf is a straightforward left-field sport. From tee to green the player uses a bow and arrow instead of a golf club and ball. On the green a ball is substituted for the arrow, and the player putts out. We had, Lord knows, the bows and arrows and also putters and golf balls. All that we lacked was a golf course, but there were a lot of those about. However, as reports began to come in describing the stubborn reluctance of greens committees to permit Archery Golf, it became apparent that getting a golf course was the principal getting-ready game of this sport. Eventually the owner of a poorly played public course agreed to allow early-morning Archery Golf. We played there only once. The fourth green was masked by a sharp, woody dogleg. An Archery Golfer has no problem getting loft on his shots. The first foursome elected to play over the trees, and all let fly at once. Rounding the turn, they found an elderly, early-rising realtor on the green encircled by quivering shafts. He was unhurt but an arrow had penetrated his golf bag.
"Sorry," shouted Bryan. "Take your time—we didn't mean to rush you."
My relatives saw they would have to create their own golf course. There were 60 acres of abandoned sheep pasture behind the lake cottages. The original intent was to outline two or three areas more as archery ranges than regular golf holes, but somehow we ended up with a rude but recognizable nine-hole golf course. Interest immediately flagged in archery, and the course was turned over to conventional golfers. For 15 years the course rode on our backs like a great seed-and-fertilizer-devouring elephant. After the war the golf course was sold and subdivided into a housing development. Its demise was unmourned by all. It does seem though that someplace, perhaps on the garbage cans which now stand on what was the third green, there should at least be a plaque commemorating the site of one of the most formidable getting-ready efforts in the history of minor-minor sports.
Turtle Racing was another family left-field sport. For Turtle Racing a ring is drawn (20 feet is the official diameter). The entries, none with more than a three-inch shell span, are contained under a dishpan at the center of the circle. On signal the pan is removed and the first speedster to cross the ring is the winner. We had a permanent, banked track on the beach. Big-time operators had screened paddocks at the water's edge. Shoestring owners stabled their stock in washbasins and goldfish bowls. Painted turtles were the most dependable breed. Snappers were sulky and box turtles slow out of the gate. Leatherbacks were swift but so carnivorously inclined that often when the starting pan was lifted they would be found gnawing on the leg of another entry. We trained running turtles on grass frogs. Frog meat develops stamina, and by dropping a frog into their stall we could give our charges a brisk morning workout. This, of course, was the derivation of the game of Frog Pounce. However, the truly ferocious getting-ready game of Turtle Racing is Muck Crawling. Good racing turtles do not inhabit sandy beaches or crystal pools. They live in rank, murky swamps. To get them you must Muck Crawl.
The making of a Turtle Racer and a Muck Crawler out of Woody, a lakeside neighbor, illustrates several common getting-ready pitfalls. Woody was a sculptor from Chicago who rented a cottage just south of our family compound, adjacent to our turtle track. Every evening all of us who were not watching the golf course gathered for a 20 or 30 race card. The action might not have impressed Nick the Greek, but it was spirited. One evening a bottle of Scotch, a tricycle, a Monopoly game and nearly $12 changed hands.
One night Woody asked if the field was open. He was welcomed. Then he asked to borrow an entry. When it is considered that my sister once got a fairly watertight canoe for Red Star, a prized painted turtle, it is understandable that we owners reacted as Horace Stoneham might if Phil Wrigley asked for the temporary use of Willie Mays.
"Well, where do you get them?" Woody asked peevishly. "Just pick them up?"