This I Believe | Tradition keeps family close

I believe in playing horseshoes on a sunny summer day on the 110th street beach in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Playing horseshoes on the beach is a family tradition that dates back long before I was born. It began when my Great Grandfather built a house in Stone Harbor back in 1960. Over the years he passed down the tradition to my grandfather and then to my mom and aunts and uncles. One of the first memories I have of being at the beach is learning how to “properly” hold and throw a horseshoe. My grandfather would say “thumb on the dent of the shoe with your index finger up the side. Don’t throw it—flick it and use your wrist.” My five cousins and I heard this over and over until we finally got it right.

When I was growing up, all 17 members of my extended family went to Stone Harbor every Memorial Day weekend and then again for the last two weeks of July. We would get to the beach right after breakfast and stay till sunset, all the while playing horseshoes. The first thing we’d do every morning was stick red, wooden poles into the sand and mark off a spot to have our horseshoe tournament for the day. The rules were as follows: the first person to 21 by at least two points won. They then had their pick of what color horseshoes they wanted to use for the next game, red or blue. With such a large extended family we often teamed up and played doubles. This made for a number of family rivalries over the years with lots of laughs and smack talk.

Our family is very competitive, so there was no letting the kids win when I was growing up. The first time you beat your grandfather or parents it’s quite the rewarding feeling. I remember beating my mom for the first time like it was yesterday: I was 12 years old and I won 21-17. The bragging rights lasted the entire day.

Unfortunately, a few years ago our family had to sell the beach house. It had been a major part of my family’s life for over 50 years. There were no horseshoe tournaments for a while, but then we started a new tradition of going to the Outer Banks, three years ago. It was the first time our family had been together for a summer vacation since selling the beach house. When we got to the beach in the morning, we immediately set up our red poles and broke out the red and blue horseshoes.

Playing horseshoes represents all the good times I had with my family while I was growing up. It ties me to my grandfather, who passed away when I was eight, and gives me a connection to my extended family. One day in the future, I will show my kids how to properly throw a horseshoe, just as my grandfather taught me. The legacy of horseshoes—and the family competition—will live on.

I believe in playing horseshoes at the beach.