How hard could it be? Holly Nadler attempts the skillet toss at the Ag Fair.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
How did I ever get talked into it? Somebody put the notion in my noodle that I should pitch a three-plus-pound cast-iron skillet in the Ag Fair competition. Before you could say, 'Cast-iron sounds awfully heavy,' I had signed on the dotted line.
I'm no more of a candidate for a skillet toss than Penny on The Big Bang Theory could help Sheldon with his paper on Higgs boson particles. I wear all-skirts-all-the time, most of them covered with tiny flowers. When I lift my bicycle onto the bus rack, I stagger backwards, and get the wheels in the wrong grooves, until finally some kindly young beefcakes plucks the bike from my hands and banks it for me.
But who's to say who can and can't chuck a pan?
I turned to my visiting son, 29-year-old Island native Charlie Nadler, to help me train. On the day before the event, we packed up my heaviest stainless steel skillet, and rambled over to Waban Park to get cracking.
I lifted the skillet out of the bag. I groaned. It was one of those half-oy sounds my Grandma used to make. My trainer guffawed.
We'd heard of the underhand skillet toss, but we agreed that the arm-up discus shot was the better choice. I did three of these, all of them traveling fairly straight and at a distance of roughly 15 feet. My trainer called a halt.
"You're gonna throw out your shoulder," he said with a sagacity that would have made Bill Belichick proud.
On the day of the contest, Sunday, August 18, I proceeded directly from the tarot card readings I give at the Oak Bluffs Open Market in Washington Park. In an ideal world, I would have returned home to change into my one pair of sweatpants and a comfy tee-shirt. But the time-crunch decided the dress code: I appeared at the meet in a flowing white skirt, white camisole, and sheer white blouse with straw bonnet and a necklace of white beads. For tarot readings, you see, white attire helps to channel the clear light of the void.
The clear light of the void would need to double as an asset for this odd ritual of flinging old iron skillets across a dusty field.
And we do this why? In a nutshell, agricultural fairs for decades — perhaps millennia in New England — have featured a skillet flinging contest, along with hog calling and tractor pulls. Some people opine that the tradition stemmed from the universal wifely urge to pitch a heavy, grimy pan at a heavy, grimy spouse, and if that's the case, then it's better performed in a dusty stadium than a circumscribed kitchen where it's easier to hit the universal husband's head.
The Ag Hall stadium is a football field-sized dirt lot with bleachers on both sides, set between the barns and the Ag Hall itself with last week's biota of flowers and veggies fed by gama rays and whatever vitamins A-Rod is taking.
As I entered the arena, I felt a mounting anxiety. A competitive streak had taken hold of my psyche. A stranger to any sort of athletic tourney, I could only deduce that some mysterious sports-driven hormone had been released, something with which all competitors are familiar, but which shocked and bedeviled this woman in flowing white garments, a sort of female Merlin.
I wanted to do well. Not to win (that would be to laugh), and not even to crush the majority of contenders. But I needed to achieve some measure of my own personal best, forgetting, conveniently, than my own personal best in this matter, and five bucks for the senior discount, would get me into the fair.
And on the subject of seniority for the skillet toss, I was placed in the old lady category of 65 and up. There were ten of us. And it occurred to me I'd rather be the baby of an older group than the old lady of a younger one.
And so the games began. Jen Gadowski, with the style of an old-time sports curmudgeon, sat before a red microphone and read us the rules. Rules? Who had time for rules? You simply hurled the iron crock.
Ms. Gadowski called the oldies-but-goodies gals first. Fine, we'd get it over with. Ellen Diess of Atlanta, Georgia, went first, fit and trim, and full of that strutting je ne sais quois that belongs to true sportswomen. She let loose with a 31-foot, 4-inch throw.
By this time, I was so rattled that when my friend Niki Patton, on deck for the 45- to 64-year-old cohort, tapped my shoulder, I jumped. Niki, who has the ability to always say the coolest things, advised, "This is all just another experience to add to the great mosaic of your life!" (By the way, Niki won in her category.)
My piece of the great mosaic arrived, and I was called to the starting line. The eight throwers preceding me had all dealt out the skillet in an underhand drive that worked nicely for them all. And yet I had dedicated myself to the discus launch. I pulled back my arm, pan faced up. The audience erupted in a sound of massive surprise that made me suddenly, desperately insecure.
And then I lobbed my skillet.
My score measured in at 13 feet, 2 inches. Humiliating. I had a few inches' advantage, however, on Lucille Baxter of Pleasantville, Pennsylvania. Did I mention Mrs. Baxter was 95 years old?
Will I enroll next year in the skillet toss?
You bet! Meanwhile I've got to practice hitching my bike onto bus racks. Not only will this build my skillet-heaving biceps, it'll help me in the coming winter when there'll be no kindly young beefcakes to come hoist it up for me.