Thursday, April 30, 2015

You can’t lose it if you never had it.

Carolyn J. Rose

The bad news is that I was never much of a bowler. My high game is 150. My low games are better left unmentioned. The good news is—thanks to my grandfather—that 50+ years haven’t made me much worse than I was.

I was just a kid when the bowling alley went up near my home in the Catskills. I had vague ideas about what bowling involved, ideas gleaned from the duckpins we’d set up in the cellar on rainy days, and the trophies my grandfather won.

My grandfather was a wiry man who smelled like pipe tobacco and liverwurst sandwiches, garden soil and liniment. A natural athlete, he was good at swimming, skating, skiing, and other sports. But he didn’t trust to nature alone. He believed in practice. Lots of practice. Practice with the goal of steady improvement.

If my grandfather was at the bowling alley when I went to hang out there with friends, he would come over to critique my form. Frankly, there was a lot to critique. More frankly, I didn’t much care if I improved.

But my grandfather did. He saw that I lacked power and couldn’t manage a hook to save my life. So he tried to teach me to control the straight-on ball I threw. Often he had me start my approach at the scoring table and release the ball two yards behind the foul line. His thinking was that if I could control a ball rolling a greater distance, I’d do better when I released from the line.

When I couldn’t master the four-step approach he suggested, he agreed that three would do. He had me concentrate on getting low and laying the ball down as smoothly as I could.

It must have been painful for a man who could make the pins shake, rattle, and roll, to watch my ball ease its way down the alley, and make only a few pins wobble and fall. It must have hurt when I asked if he could just let me bowl for fun.

But I think he’d be proud that a few nights ago I went bowling with my neighbors. I would have been happy just to be there, wearing the shoes I got at a yard sale, rolling the ball I found at a thrift store, and listening to the thump and whump and clatter of balls and pins. But his lessons came back to me, and I managed, with my slow, straight-rolling ball, to lead the pack in the first game.

After that? Well, let’s just say I should have practiced a heck of a lot more than I did back in the day.