It's a wholesome thing, seeing a grown man take a week’s worth of hard-earned money from a 12-year-old kid and then laugh aloud at the youngster's frustration. But such a display of tough, politically incorrect love has its place.
For a number of years, my dad and his hunting buddy Bobby spent virtually every summer evening practicing with their bows in the back yard. Sundays were spent on the 3D course. Soon as I was big enough to pull a 40-pound bow, the legal minimum hunting draw weight at that time, I was welcomed into the practice fold right alongside the men. But there was one condition: bring your money, because this crew pays their debts.
Every arrow fired during these practice sessions held the potential of either triumphant financial gain or disastrous shame and poverty. The game was simple. A spot on the target was designated, and arrows were fired at said spot. If all arrows hit or missed the spot, no money changed hands. But in the case of one hit and one miss, the superior archer was owed a quarter. The game became especially interesting with three shooters. If one shooter missed but the other two both hit, the inferior archer found himself doling out not one but two quarters.
It was not uncommon, then, for the poorest of the three archers to rack up a staggering $3 to $5 debt per session. To grown men with disposable income and decades of archery and bowhunting experience, it was a delightful game. To a 12-year-old boy, it was a source of constant worry equivalent to being indebted to the Mob. Each session became a hands-on lesson in shooting form, concentration, compound interest rates and the fundamentals of gambling. These are important things for a sixth-grader to learn.
One would think two grown men would “take it easy on the kid,” but it was quite the opposite. Bobby reveled in drawing my bow with his pinkie at the outset of every session, and then chuckling at my spindly arms and weakling muscles. Dad was more phsycological, waiting for me to come to full draw before simply saying aloud, “don’t miss or you’ll owe us all money.” And after a shot, I could depend on him to say, "Well, Son, looks like you owe Bobby another quarter."
Of course, if I couldn’t pay up at the end, which was at times a reality for a kid with a gambling problem, that was no reason to exclude me from future games. I was always allowed to work off my debts with chores around the house.
I’d love to write about how I became a prodigy of childhood archery, regularly schooling the old men and ultimately funding my higher education, one quarter at a time. But the truth is, my folks paid for my college, and prior to it, I ended up expending considerable cash, mowing a lot of grass and shoveling mounds of horse turds as a result of the “shoot for quarters” game.
Thing is, I never considered not shooting for quarters. I didn’t go on to become a champion archer, but at some point, I did begin walking away from practice sessions with some extra jingle in my pocket. And to this day, I can hold my composure better than most while at full draw. That’s handy when aiming at a 3D target in front of a crowd of strangers. It’s even handier when a deer is ambling into bow range.
I think maybe that’s the lesson Dad and Bobby were trying to teach all along. And that, my friends, was certainly worth every quarter.