Arts and Entertainment

Enumclaw's Sheila Shannon takes top honors for article in Washington Thoroughbred

Enumclaw author Sheila Shannon earned one of two first-place awards for Washington Thoroughbred magazine in the 2010 American Horse Publication annual awards contest. The competition featured material published in 2009.

Shannon earned her first-place honor in the Feature Article circulation under 10,000 (print) category for “The Irish Pinch.” The article appeared in the September 2009 issue of Washington Thoroughbred.

“A great piece, with a wonderful sense of place and strong narrative flow," the judge commented. "The playfulness of the narrator remains consistent throughout, drawing the reader in as co-conspirator in her mischievous game of clothespin tag. This is terrific storytelling at its best.”

The AHP Annual Awards contest provides members with an opportunity to be recognized for excellence in equine publishing, as well as receive professional critiques. Twenty-three judges placed the classes and provided constructive critiques for all entries.

The award categories and placements were announced June 19 during the AHP 40th anniversary seminar at the Hilton Lexington Downtown Hotel in Lexington, Ky.

Reprinted by permission of Washington Thoroughbred. September 2009.

Irish Pinch -

The phone rang and TJ asked, “What time are we leaving for the races? I want to look at tile first.” I’d forgotten we’d planned this. I wasn’t feeling up for the horse races or for looking at tile but TJ had little sympathy for my food and alcohol hangover. Drinking was something she gave up long ago. Since she’d planned her day around watching the pony’s run and I’d agreed to go, I’d better get my act together and get an attitude adjustment. Besides this would be the last race we’d attend till next year so I figured we might as well go out with a bang and have some fun!

Ever since I pinned clothespins on my cousins and other unsuspecting people in the pubs in Ireland, I’ve wanted to do it at the racetrack. The track is the perfect place to play my juvenile game.

My father was a prankster who loved to tease his six kids. One day, while I was sitting in front of the T.V., mesmerized by cartoons, my father pinned a wooden clothespin on my shirt without my knowledge. He sat back in his favorite recliner and laughed. It wasn’t uncommon for my father to laugh at our cartoons, especially if it was Bullwinkle and Rocky so I didn’t catch on. My sister Patsy came and sat in front of the T.V., pointed at me, laughed and looked to my Dad, who I caught with his index finger to his lips. Realizing something was up I checked my clothes and discovered the clothespin.

Thus began the clothespin game. The premise of the game was to place a clothespin somewhere on the person without getting caught and make the person wearing a wooden clothespin look silly. A few times I got all the way to school with the pin still attached. When kids asked me why I was wearing a wooden clothespin, I’d act like I was mad at my dad. It was grand fun for us kids.

Several months’ back, Ruxell Berndt who’d worked with my father on the railroad got home and discovered the clothespin I’d stuck on him during his haircut. He called me, laughing, and referred to the prank as the Irish pinch. It was the perfect name for my Irish father’s game.

A few minutes after hanging up with TJ I had worked up a modus operandi for the day. There were thirty-five new clothespins leftover from my Ireland trip and another fifteen in the shed. My big black fanny pack would be the perfect place to hide them.

While I washed my hair and sat under the dryer in my salon I wrote “Irish pinch” on each one of the clothespins with a permanent marker. With time running out, I quickly threw the marker and the rest of the little devils in my pack. I needed to spend a few minutes putting make-up on in case I had a mug- shot taken and got thrown in jail for my mischievous conduct.

I arrived where TJ and I had agreed to meet. As I waited for TJ, I sat in the car and continued to write on the remainder of the clothespins. TJ pulled up next to me and made one of her goofy faces at me as she got out of the car with her ever-present coffee cup in hand. When she saw the clothespins and the smile on my face, she immediately shook her head, “I want nothing to do with this.”

I stuck out my lower lip and coaxed, “Oh, come on, Tara Jean. It’ll be fun.”

The tall redhead firmly shook her head and repeated, “No, it won’t. You’re on your own.”

I pleaded, “Oh, come on it will be a gas. Don’t be such a stick in the mud.”

TJ attempted seriousness. “No! I mean it. I want nothing to do with this.”

“For someone who used to be a lot of fun, you’re sure getting stodgy in your old age,” I said and continued to write on the clothespins.

TJ took a sip of her coffee, and said, “I don’t care. Leave me out of this.”

I snapped the cap on the sharpie. Shoved the completed Irish pinches in my fanny pack, stuck my tongue out. “Okay! But you’ll miss all the fun.”

She repeated, “I don’t care.” She was still rolling her eyes as we parked, locked the car and walked toward the track. As we rode up the escalator up to the track level I smelled the polish sausages and sauerkraut cooking. Salivating, I knew before the day was over I’d put my lips around one of those delicious beasts and possibly pinch a person who’s attention would be immersed in the track’s greasy specialty.

The first people to catch my eyes were green-jacketed security men. Squinting her eyes at me TJ lectured, “Don’t even think about it.”

“Well, not now, I’ll get them before we leave.” I patted my fanny pack. TJ gave me that ‘don’t think you’re going to involve me’ glare. When I looked around, disappointment loomed. There weren’t many people in attendance at the races today. This might be harder than I thought.

The key to the game was to not let anyone see me stick a clothespin on my victim. That would be hard with the sparse crowd. I might need some assistance from the redhead to run blocks and diversions. I knew I’d be able to talk her into it.

I headed to the beer stand. This was without question the best place to begin my mischief. When men are in line for a beer, their eyes are on the ladies pulling the taps. Nonchalantly I took out a pinch, hid it in my hand for a few moments then quickly attached it to the shirt of the man standing in front of me. I looked around to see if any eyes were on my deed. Everyone was looking either at the beer-pumping gals, a program, the racing form or the tote board. Walking away with a beer in hand, encouraged by my coup, I took a generous sip.

Surveying the scene I gazed up at the American and state flags flying above the tote board. With Mt. Rainier majestically in the background across the track, it was a grand day to be alive

I began to look for my next mark. There he was, the big guy in the white cowboy hat with long shirttails. He’d be a cinch to pinch. One problem: he was surrounded by a group of people and it looked like he had a girlfriend. You’ve got to watch out for those girlfriends, they might get the wrong idea. Oh, well, I had TJ to protect me. Maybe. She’s not what she used to be. These days she doesn’t brawl like she once did but I bet she can still hold her own. Still I’d better not get caught.

One of my favorite sights and sounds at the track is the bugler who before each race plays a little ditty followed by Parade To The Post. This long legged slim gent, dressed in a black riding hat, tight squash-colored britches with never a wrinkle would look great with an Irish pinch hung from his jacket tails. However this doesn’t seem like the right time since upon request he’s played the theme from the T.V. show Green Acres and My Girl for me. So I guess I’ll let him continue to look perfect, at least for today.

I waited until the third race was in full swing and all eyes were on the horses as they pounded down the stretch. I walked up behind the tall cowboy and dropped my program. I reached down to pick it up, pinned the boy. Tingling with a mixture of nerves and pleasure, I then proceeded past him to the rail where I pinned both people standing next to me. God almighty, I was on a roll. Turning around I leaned on the fence and focused my attention on TJ who was standing twenty feet away on the inclined asphalt talking to a man. Out of one eye she’d been watching me. I gave her a toothy grin and moseyed on up to see if the man she was talking to might be my next target. As I arrived, he asked her if she still partied as she once had. I chimed in, “Those days are long gone. She’s a bit on the reserved side of life these days.”

Before she could chastise me for butting in, I introduced myself. Jack looked like an old campaigner; his face resembled a detailed road map. The two of them were having some great laughs. He’d obviously spent some time carousing with the almost six foot TJ and his yellow jacket would be sporting an Irish pinch very shortly. As I moved to pin his jacket, he turned to see why I’d stopped directly behind him. TJ, sensing my predicament came to my rescue. She tapped him in the crest with her program got his attention and asked him, “Do you remember the time we were in Marilee’s dancing and Kenny spun Clare into the drum set.” He nodded and joined her in laughter. And she had said she wasn’t going to help. Huh.

With thirty pins to my credit, we began to observe people’s behavior regarding the clothespins. TJ and I were twenty feet away when we saw the cowboy’s girlfriend discover the pinch. She yanked it off his shirttail and both of them read what was written on it and began to laugh. Looking around he loudly asked, “Where’s my Irish kiss?”

The rest of his group eyed the pinch, laughed and joined in on the fun. I held the program in front of my face and burst out laughing. Folks began to notice the clothespins stuck on other people and checked the hems of their shirts. Some people looked totally confused while others laughed and scanned the crowd.

With only a few pinches left, I decided to pinch the cowboy’s girlfriend but I was overconfident. When I got back to TJ, she laughed, “You’ve been busted. You were too obvious.”

I rested my forehead in my hand embarrassed and softly asked, “What did they do?” Looking at the next race in her program TJ crooned, “Well, I think she thought you were trying to pickpocket her purse.”

My head flew up and I looked at TJ, “Oh, no” I moaned.

“Then they saw the pin and watched you as you walked away.”

Bummer, I decided I’d better come clean. I walked up to the small group of people and confessed, “Okay, you caught me.”

Laughing, they looked me over; perhaps I was a little old for a game like this. The girlfriend spoke first. “What’s this all about?” I relayed the story of my father’s tease and my trip to Ireland. Each one of them listened attentively to my tale of Ireland, I told them about how I sung in every pub I went to in Ireland. When I offered to sing the song my sister wrote about my Irish Dad, TJ spun on her heels and headed for the other side of the track. Various members of the group said they wanted to hear me sing.

“Will it embarrass any of you?” I questioned.

“No,” several piped up. The cowboy hung his head to hide his face. I thought he’d be the last one to be embarrassed, considering he was wearing the white 10-gallon hat. Not holding back, I gave them my full voice and performance. When I got done, they said it was great. What else were they going to say? As I walked away, I’m sure they thought I was several bubbles off plumb but I didn’t care. I was having a grand time

Don and Wanda Munger, friends of mine, had a horse running in the last race of the day. I stood in the middle circle of the paddock with the owners and trainers and all the other people who think they’re special. The magnificent horses prance around the circle so everyone can get a good look and figure out which one to place their bets on. With the odds board lit up directly above it’s suppose to give you a clue as to who the winner will be. More often than not the board is as deceiving as the biggest most powerful looking horse that looks like it can run the fastest.

I glanced up at the crowd above and saw my new acquaintances looking down into the paddock. Waving my arms high in the air, I got their attention. They enthusiastically waved back laughing. Holding one hand up vertically and pointing into it with the other, I signaled to them all the folks around me whom I’d pinched. TJ stood next to me and rolled her eyes.

As is the ritual, the jockeys enter the circle, single file, shake the owners’ hands and receive their final instructions for their ride. Wanda turned to me, “Don’t even think about pinning one of those clothespins on a jockey, you could cause an accident.”

“I’m not that stupid Wanda.” The thought did cross my mind but only for a flashing moment. In moments the perfect dance takes place. A voice yells “Riders up!” and in one fluid motion the jockeys are given a leg up to float on a pending explosion. Their colorful silks bellow in the breeze and I think of my father. I wish I had the kelly green silks with the gold harp on the back my father had used for his racehorses. More than that I wish he could be standing next to me.

With the luck of the Irish I picked the final winner of the day. We watched as the beautiful bay was led into the winners’ circle. Quickly the winning picture is snapped; the Jockey dismounts, shakes hands and with his tiny saddle in his arms jumps on the weight scales. To them it’s all in a days work. To me, it’s amazing.

Collecting my money from Ross, my crush behind the betting window, he looks at the clothespin I give him and figures I’m my typical eccentric self. I Pick up my winnings give him a token, blow him a kiss and tell him I’ll see him next year.

Leaving the track, I pinched two security guards. Looking proudly at the clothespins hanging on their jackets, I nudged TJ. She just shook her head.

On our walk to the car, laughing and talking about the events of the day, I moved my fanny pack and felt something. Not one, but two clothespins hung from my shirt.

Poking TJ in the side, I demanded, “How long have I had these stuck here?”

TJ snickered, “Oohhh, ever since you sang to the cowboy and his gang.” We howled all the way back to the car.

There isn’t a time when I go to the track that I don’t think about my father. He loved the sport and a good prank. I knew he was watching me from above and having as grand a time as I was. I could hear him laugh as together we watched Bullwinkle and Rocky so many years ago when he pinched me with a clothespin and gave birth to the Irish Pinch.

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