I Arched Before Arching Was Cool

Sorry, Katniss Everdeen. Sorry, Merida Whatever-your-last-name-was.

You may be role models for today’s girls who, it is said, are taking up archery in record numbers.(1) But I was there first.

It all started in a 5,000-watt radio station in Fresno, California…. No wait, it didn’t. That was Ted Baxter.(2) Rewind. Push play.

It all started down the street from our house, where one of our neighbors set up an archery target by his garage, stood at the end of his driveway, and practiced his Errol Flynn Zen.

All the neighbor kids gathered round. After all, it was way more interesting than watching the other neighborhood dads mow their lawns or build concrete birdbaths.

When I showed interested, my father, who approved of all things martial (if not artsy), bought me a kid’s bow.

And what a bow it was! What’s called a traditional longbow (though a very, very short one). It was made of pink and white fiberglass, swirled in a candy mint pattern, with a red grip and arrow rest. It was a girlie bow, but it was a real, honest-to-goodness functioning one.

I spent many happy hours taking potshots at a gun target(3) taped to he side of the garage(4). And walking back and forth to collect the arrows. This is what passed for exercise in my youth, and is more than I get these days.

Dad got me accessories too, like the arm guard and the shooting glove. The arm guard is an absolute necessity. Just whang the inside of your left arm with the bowstring once because you weren’t holding the bow properly, and you’ll know what I mean. At least six inches of burning, stinging scrape-bruise. If you don’t have an arm guard, keep lots of ice packs handy.

I .

Fast forward a decade or so, and there I was at college, in the field for my second time through a class in Intermediate Archery. (There was no Advanced Archery, so I had to keep cycling through Intermediate to make my required number of gym credits.(5))

“Who has never shot a bow before?” the instructor shouted.

I raised my hand. She rolled her eyes.

There had been a fair amount of eye-rolling on her part. One day I showed up for class wearing a forest green wool cape and a matching Robin Hood hat.(6) I did not bring the pink bow, as it would have clashed hideously. (I would still have my candy-ass pink bow today, except that over the years, the fiberglass shredded.) The school had better bows, in sensible colors.

On rainy days we stayed inside and learned to fletch. (Fletching means putting the feathers on the arrow’s rear end (the non-pointy end, right in front of the nock, which is the little notch that the bowstring fits into). (Isn’t vocabulary fun!)

We even learned to make “frou-frou” arrows(7), which a 1958 Boy’s Life magazine says have “air brakes.” What they really had were big, fluffy, silly-looking feathers. The advantage of frou-frou arrows was that they would fly a certain distance, then stop abruptly, point directly down, and impale themselves in the ground. The perpendicular shaft and fancy feathers made the arrows easy to find when you missed the target. Which we did. Often. We didn’t have those fancy modern bows with bowsights and scopes and assorted sniper-rifle attachments in those days. Which is definitely a good thing, or I might have become an arrow-sniper instead of a writer/editor.

And if that didn’t work out for some reason, at least I could always survive in a post-apocalyptic dystopia or cartoon Scotland. Who else do you know that can say that?

(1) Record numbers are not necessarily big numbers, you understand.
(2) Bonus points for identifying this reference. Double points if you don’t have to Google.
(3) We could have bought archery targets, but honestly, there were a lot of gun targets lying around our garage, just waiting for holes to be made in them.
(4) Later in life, my husband practiced with shuriken by sailing them at the side of our garage. He broke a window.
(5) In those days, universities could still force you to take gym. We had to take at least four semesters, and by the end of it, you had better know how to swim, unless you already knew how to swim and tested out of it. This was actually a reasonable requirement, since sliding downhill on cafeteria trays was a popular recreational activity, and at the bottom of the hill was a large lake.
(6) My mother made them for me. She had a definite whimsical side. Once she made me a camouflage flannel nightgown (neck-to-toes style). I wore it to the office Halloween party and claimed I was dressed as “Granny Rambo.”
(7) I am not making this up. There really are such things and they really are, or at least were, called that. Modern archers may have decided to butch up the name.

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