Ever since I was in grammar school, I’ve enjoyed candlepin bowling. I never was very good at it, but I always enjoyed it.
The bowling alley closest to my house when I was growing up in Manchester was called Queen City Lanes. There was another one not too far away called Hub Lanes, but I didn’t like it as much because it had such low ceilings. It definitely was not a place for anyone who was over six feet tall…or suffered from claustrophobia.
When I was in junior high, my school decided to form a bowling league. I was so excited about it, I think I was the first one to sign up. Once a week, the school would bus us from the West Side all the way over to Lakeside Lanes, which was near Massabesic Lake. Lakeside was so new and ultra-modern, it made the other bowling alleys in the area seem practically prehistoric in comparison. I felt confident that all of the state-of-the art equipment would vastly improve my bowling score.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. I’m pretty sure I broke a record for throwing the most gutter balls in a single season. Not surprisingly, my team came in dead last in the big tournament at the end of the year.
My problem seemed to be my wrist, which had a mind of its own. Whenever I’d throw the ball, I could feel my wrist twisting and the ball inevitably would curve right into the gutter. I was tempted to duct tape a metal rod onto my arm, to keep it perfectly straight.
But my inability to bowl didn’t bother me. In fact, when I started dating, bowling was the first thing I’d suggest when a guy asked me where I wanted to go, even though I knew it meant he would be staring at my least flattering side all evening. Thank goodness there were no photo-taking cell phones back then because if someone had snapped a photo of me bowling, with my hips totally blocking out the entire view of the pins, I probably would have given up the sport for life.
Funny, but I’d always been under the impression that candlepin bowling was a universal thing…until the weekend a family friend, Barry, from Pennsylvania came to visit my husband and me, and we took him bowling.
I’ll never forget Barry’s expression when he first set eyes on the pins and balls.
“You’re kidding, right?” he asked, his eyes wide with disbelief. “This is what you call bowling?”
When he realized we were serious, he picked up one of the bowling balls and examined it.
“This is a croquet ball!” he said. “And there aren’t any finger holes in it!” He then stared at the pins. “And the pins don’t have any shape to them. They just go straight up and down!”
Barry’s first attempt at using a candlepin ball was…well, nothing short of a complete disaster. The ball was so light compared to the huge, heavy ones he was used to, he flung it too hard and his arm went straight up in the air, releasing the ball into one of the lighted ceiling panels – which came crashing down onto the alley. My husband and I were pretty sure we’d have to re-mortgage our house to pay for the damages, but the manager, who looked as if he wanted to make us go stand down near the pins so he could peg balls at us, said his insurance would cover it.
Over the years, my husband and I bowled on several couples’ leagues, and my mother and I bowled on several ladies’ leagues. I never did very well, but at least I had a great time socializing.
Anyway, for some reason, a couple weeks ago a sudden wave of nostalgia struck me and I had a burning desire to go bowling. I’d bowled probably only twice in the past 12 years, but that didn’t matter. I couldn’t suppress the urge to bowl.
When my friend Nancy and her husband Paul, who hadn’t been bowling in ages, either, said they’d go with me, I was thrilled. I immediately searched for my bowling shoes, which I hadn’t seen in ages. It took a while, but I finally found them in a box in the basement. They smelled so old, musty and mildewed, I had to put them out in the garage to air them out.
“You think your bowling shoes are bad?” Nancy said when I told her about finding mine. “I dug out mine and there still was a pair of old socks in them! Even worse, the shoes don’t even fit me any more!”
As we drove over to Lakeside Lanes that Friday, we discussed how we probably all would end up in traction the next day. I had visions of my assorted body parts popping out of place the minute I threw the ball. Still, I was willing to take that risk.
Lakeside, I noticed, had changed quite a bit since my previous bowling days there. For one thing, everything had been computerized, with large overhead screens showing slide shows of scenery as well as score sheets. And every time a bowler knocked down all of the pins, cartoon characters, dancing and cheering, appeared on the screens to celebrate the event.
Nancy, Paul and I collectively bowled so many gutter balls, we often didn’t even have to press the reset button. And when I did miraculously manage to knock down all of the pins and get two spares, I ended up with gutter balls on both of them.
Bob, who’s worked at Lakeside seemingly forever, was extremely sympathetic when I scored nothing on my spares. In fact, he actually stopped laughing long enough to tell me that if I got another spare, I might want to try walking down to the pins and kicking them down so I could score something on it.
We bowled three strings each. Our scores averaged in the 50s and 60s, which definitely wouldn’t win us any trophies in a tournament. But we had a lot of laughs.
As we were leaving, I said to Nancy and Paul, “This was fun! We’ll have to do it on a regular basis, so we can get better and better at it!”
Their expressions, which kind of looked as if they’d just been told they were going to be audited by the IRS, made me think they probably weren’t quite as enthusiastic about bowling as I was.
But I’m determined to talk them into going again…just as soon as I regain the full use of my right arm and I can walk upright again without making any “oy” noises.
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