I bowled today for the first time in twenty-some years. It seemed like a good way to spend an afternoon with three young boys, my grandsons, who were on spring break. My motive—I wanted to expose them to a sport that I loved as a child.
The dimly lit bowling alley, located up a flight of stairs, seemed more like a hip bar with its giant muted flat-screen TV’s displaying sports news, hockey and basketball games on the far side of each lane.
My grandchildren had never bowled before and knew very little about how the game was played. Since the boys were learning math, I felt that an understanding of how to keep score might assist their number skills. My enthusiasm for a lesson in arithmetic combined with a fun time became squashed by the early awakening of ‘modern bowling alleys.’ Now days, it’s all computerized. No need to understand basic addition or any other scoring rules.
When I approached the lane, with a 10-pound bowling ball in hand, I tried not to breathe or think about anything else, except bowling. I wanted my body to perform a series of complex movements that my muscles had memorized years ago. In short, I become a robot, pulling my ball into my chest, performing a quick shimmy with my hips before swinging the ball first backward, then forward. My arm, a pendulum of kinetic energy, as I walked the five measured steps toward the foul line. I released the ball and watched it glide across the oiled wooden planks as if it was floating, hydroplaning, spinning counterclockwise along a trajectory route which took it straight to the left-hand gutter. Oh well, I still have a few frames left.
I tell the kids, “Timing is everything. When your timing is right, when your arms, legs, and torso all move in rhythm toward the lane, you have better balance. When you’re balanced, you’re more accurate. And that’s when the magic begins.”
Three serious young faces looked up at me and one by one they take their turn. The boys did well, considering it was their first try at the game. Of course, they had rubber bumpers on either side to prohibit gutter balls. Why didn’t they have that when I was young?
My final score, a number I frequently ended up with as a 12-year old girl, reflected my ‘out of practice’ status—74. My grandchildren beat me with an 83, 77, and an 89.
I did however have a strike on the sixth frame. The ball neared the edge of the lane, then veered back toward the center, as if guided by remote control. The planned hook carried the ball back just in time. In a heartbeat, what was a wide, sneering mouth of pins was soon nothing.
I have to admit I felt proud in front of the boys. After a bit of pre-game bragging, this strike seemed to make my ‘love of bowling believable.’ I walked back to the table listening to squeals of ‘wow, that was great.’ But instead of feeling good, I was displeased. My one strike wasn’t good enough. With a pencil, I jotted down notes on a folded piece of blue paper and told the kids exactly what I thought I did wrong.
On my last roll something happened. I could tell by the sound of the pins. As the clutter cleared, I saw the nine pin, (the second from the right on the last row) still standing. I watched the chaos of the flying pins, each rotating right past the upright nine. I craned my neck, watched and hoped. But the nine pin never dropped.
I blamed it on the distraction, the music, sport TV’s, and lighting. The kids tried to cheer me up, “At least you got the kingpin.”
The best part of this field trip didn’t involve the score, but the fun I had exposing my grandchildren to a sport I loved and teaching them correct form, sportsmanship, rules of etiquette and scoring, even if they won’t need to put the math to work. They loved outperforming their grandmother and can’t wait to try again. Next time we’ll find an old-fashion bowling alley. Not the kind with teenage ‘pin setters’ in the background that I once swooned over, but a bowling alley that allows you to score and bowl without postmodern technology. A place that serves hot dogs, French fries with ketchup, and delivers it to your lane. The kind that offers a rosin bag to dry your hands to allow for that perfect roll. Just give me a pencil and score sheet and let me keep track of the numbers. It isn’t difficult—even a child can do it.