The headline is ‘Jarts.’ The story is ‘Family.’

By Todd Franko

I got schooled by the regulars at Cassese’s MVR in a round of boccie last year.

And, in our neighborhood, Mayor Kevin Dailey is the king of corn toss.

Both times I thought: If I could just get them into my backyard beer-drinking, lawn-darts arena, I’d be king for an afternoon.

Jarts is my game.

Purely for full disclosure and not for anything else, I should announce that I could be the lawn-darts equivalent of Tiger Woods.

And this weekend is my Augusta.

We gather this weekend as part of a family reunion. At the core of it will be the Jarts tourney, and I’m defending champ.

It’s horrifically a guy event, but ironically and respectfully named after one of our beloved aunts who died the year we started this.

Women do play, but they rarely get far into the tourney.

I note this only because the reunion is largely a mom- and wife-driven event. And that they let Jarts remain the core of it all is probably a testament to what amazing, amazing people they are.

Which is in stark contrast to us guys, who sit around all afternoon and play, watch one another play, talk about previous years’ play, drink beer, let the kids beat on one another and drag our knuckles along the ground during every trip to the bathroom.

These days, you don’t see lawn-dart tourneys too often, and that’s largely because toymakers built these lethal projectiles, then turned them loose on America. A few hits in the head, a few consumer complaints, a few deaths, and Jarts are no longer allowed in the marketplace after having been banned by the Consumer Product Safety Division in 1988.

Yes, the manufacture, sale or possession of Jarts is unlawful. Technically, lawn-dart enthusiasts can face civil or criminal charges.

So please — after you read this — do not tell anybody about me. Dispose of your Vindy in a way that someone in law enforcement cannot read about this.

And, should you happen to have a set of these dangerous items in your garage or basement, keep a safe distance away and e-mail me. I will come and safely remove them from your home — and leave you with a small finder’s fee. Think of me as kind of like Crime Stoppers. Except with Jarts.

(I made this same offer at a previous paper, and three wise and proactive citizens took me up on my offer.)

So while the guys rally around Jarts, we quietly acknowledge the substantial part of the weekend that the women know all too well: family.

And this year, we approached the weekend with a slower gait, as if to ensure we take in as much of it as possible.

The aunts and uncles who launched my generation out of the coal hills of western Pennsylvania — the ones who grabbed us and swung us into the cool lake waters below and the crusty, old mattresses above — have ceded the annual affair to a new generation.

That one aunt, 82, will make it to the reunion is a feat even Tiger Woods could not surpass.

But evident in her is the fortitude that pulls folks together at the moment you’re about to break. It’s a strength that seems stronger in her generation than mine.

She came not for Jarts or for beer.

She came for us.

I was up at the place a few weeks ago to prepare it for the forthcoming reunion.

I saw the picture on the wall I’d looked at hundreds of times before. Only this time, I stopped to read it.


(author unknown)

We gather in a whirling celebration of life.

And like the rivers that run into the sea,

We are once again whole.

We take comfort knowing that through the moments of great joy

And times of sobering reality,

We are surrounded by all that we will ever need ...

Each other.

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