I consider myself a good sport. But my sporting ability – well, that's another matter. Two other prospective archers, Melissa and Irene, are standing in front of me at an archery range in England. They look as though they know what they're doing, and, even though their arrows are not quite making it to the target, I'm impressed.
"Consistency is important," our instructor, Chris, says as Irene shoots an arrow into the soft moor in front of her.
"Well, I've been pretty consistent," she says, laughing. Her arrow has joined those from her previous attempts – nearly five feet from the bull's-eye. I hope I can do as well.
Melissa is doing a little better. "I feel like I'm in a movie," she says. "It feels like I'm the cool female heroine. It's so ... Robin Hood." She pulls back to give the catchall net behind the target another arrow.
Then, all too soon, it's my turn to shoot.
"Don't worry. It's just like playing an instrument," Chris says as he hands me the first bow I've ever held. His remark doesn't help my confidence since, despite years of violin and guitar lessons, I've never been able to master a stringed anything.
But then Chris lets us in on a little archery-related history that captures my imagination. He makes a backward peace sign with his right hand and says, "This is considered a rude gesture in England, but it's actually an old war signal that means 'I've still got my archery fingers and I'm still in this, so watch out.' "
I can't help but glance down at my hands, archery fingers intact. OK, I think to myself, here it goes.
The line grows taut under my gloved fingers. I aim with one eye closed. I shoot. I score. I try again, thinking it is a fluke, but it's not. I am good. Behind me, Melissa and Irene gasp, filling the air between my shots with comments such as, "This must be in your blood!"
I find myself shooting faster and faster until my pouch of arrows is depleted. Out of my 15 arrows, only two of them don't make it to the target. This is so much fun I could do it for hours, days, maybe even weeks at a time.
After 30 minutes of shooting, I've been transformed from a woman with no confidence in her sporting ability into a don't-you-worry-about-me maiden of the moor.
Melissa and Irene, fellow Americans, take to calling me Louise, as in "Thelma & Louise," after Irene points out that one of the movie's stars, Geena Davis, is a talented archer. I don't protest the new nickname. I like that I now remind them of an armed outlaw. Robin Hood again.
As we help Chris pack up the equipment at the end of our lesson, I tell the women about how I grew up with play-by-play accounts of my grandfather's recreational standoffs with champion archers such as O.K. Smathers.
My grandfather kept up with the best archers of his generation. He took the sport so seriously that, for a time, he made his own arrows. He whittled them of wood and collected feathers perfectly suited to hold the air, just so.
He even considered attending an Olympic trial in the mid-1950s, until an all-white uniform requirement struck his Midwestern, Army-green-and-brown fashion sensibility as absurd.
When he tells the story of the trial that got away, he always ends with, "I didn't own a pair of white pants. Where was I supposed to find a pair of men's white pants in the middle of a Michigan winter?"
Melissa and Irene laugh when I relay this detail. Chris soon chimes in and says to me, "I do think you should take this up with your grandfather. You have a natural gift."
Weeks later, back in the United States, I tell my grandfather about my lesson. As I'm talking, he motions for me to follow him out to the backyard shed so we can examine his beloved bows. Once we're in the shed, I trace the long, curved backbones of his target bows with my index finger, and suddenly I begin to doubt myself. These are larger than the bow I used in England. Won't these be much harder to use?
Just as my enthusiasm begins to wane, my grandfather, sprightly at 88, lifts a bow from its wall cradle and lines up an imaginary target before handing the bow to me with a sideways wink. He reminds me that as long as I have my archery fingers, I've got a shot at doing anything I want.
I link his arm with mine as we walk back to the house. "We'll have to do a lot of practicing to get you up to speed," he says intently. I can tell he's already calculating what size glove I'll need. From here on out, we're in this together.
And tomorrow I will buy a pair of Olympic-trial-worthy white pants to have on hand – just in case.