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.


  1. Other than falling on my face on the first ball and losing in the final game to Jon by a single pin when I clutched an easy spare, I had a great time. It reminded me of watching my mother bowl in a women's league at the alley in Coquille. (Between cadging dimes for the pinball machine.) Her team was led by Betty Wahl, a formidable women who taught PE at my Junior High and threw a speed-ball that left the pins quaking with fright. Mom, on the other hand, threw a rambler and thumper, a ball that moved so slowly down the alley that I could have gone for French Fries and a coke when she delivered it and been back by the time it got to the pins. But she had a great time and it made her smile, so it's was okey-dokey with me. I remember once the stars all aligned and she bowled a 200 game. It's a memory that has stayed with me for all of these years.

  2. Hi to all the bowling gang, it looks as though you had a great time, even though some of you performed better than others!

    I can't talk, as my bowling skills are worse than average and my game was best played when we went as a family with young children who needed the assistance of the side bumpers!

    Now they are all grown up, so until the next generation of great nieces and nephews arrive on the scene (the first one is due in September), the bowling alley is safe from my tender mercies!

    My feeble efforts do however pale into insigificance against some of the trials and tribulations of other bowlers, who are even worse ... When we had not long been married and Dave was in the Royal Air Force, his section decided to have a bowls night at the camp alley. All was going well until we had finished eating and actually started the game. Another foursome were playing on a lane close by, when one of the wives, obviously even more inept and inexperienced than myself, launched the ball skywards, taking out the overhead strip lights, showering several lanes with broken glass ... How popular do you think our group was :)

    Or my SIL, who doesn't quite get the bit about bending low before releasing the ball and drops it from waist height, where it travels much like a bouncing bomb towards the pins! Granted she has bad knees and has endured several stomach operations, however the look on everyone's face as the ball hits the ground with a crack loud enough to shatter the flooring, is priceless :)

    Thanks for bringing the memories to mind, it makes you reflect on the good things of life, in these times of doom and gloom!