In the ninth grade at Kenmore Junior High School, we were offered an alternative to gym class -- bowling, at the Ten Pin Club upstairs in Shea's Kenmore Theater. Escape from school and those funny blue gym outfits seemed an attractive option. Besides, my brother and I had sometimes gone to watch our father bowl in his weekly league and knew the club had good milkshakes.
That was before my mother had persuaded my father to give up bowling because, for the same price, he could take the whole family to the movies. Much as I enjoyed those movie nights, I felt a little guilty that he'd given up his bowling for us.
Some years later, married and living in New Jersey, my husband and I found that bowling alleys had changed. Besides automatic pin-setters, they even had nurseries so we could enjoy a Sunday afternoon or evening out without needing a sitter. That lasted until our third son was born and we moved to Japan.
That was the extent of my bowling until we came back to Buffalo in the '60s and a friend invited me to fill a vacancy in her league, which then had 60 women.
My Aunt Elizabeth was a good bowler who had been written up as the oldest woman league bowler in the area, but she was about to retire at 77. She had her ball redrilled to fit my hand. It was so heavy I could hardly lift it, but finally I got used to it. I've been bowling ever since.
It's been fun, especially the days we had treats: Cider and doughnuts for Halloween, pink stuff for Valentine's Day, green stuff for St. Patrick's Day. We all brought our specialty, and we all bowled better with our sugar level increased. Even those who could no longer bowl came for those special events, and for the Christmas Banquet and Spring Luncheon.
It's also been a lesson in adaptation. Mary lost her vision but could still aim fairly accurately. After her first ball, she'd ask which pins were left standing so she could judge where to aim.
Jennie needed a walker, which she would use to get to the rack. She'd pick up her ball and throw it, then use her walker to get back to her seat.
Phyl's ball didn't always make it to the pins. Sometimes it came to a stop partway down the alley and just sat there. She couldn't cry for laughing.
Some had knee replacements or hip replacements and came back after rehab. One had a mastectomy and learned to bowl with her left hand.
A few had to give up driving, so teammates picked them up. Our oldest bowler turned 95 and was in better shape than a lot of us. Some moved to Florida. Some died.
I eventually switched to a lighter ball, an alley ball. When our bowling alley was sold to a car dealer to be turned into a parking lot, I asked if I could trade my aunt's heavy ball for the lighter one I'd been using. The manager said, "fine." Maybe he was just going to throw them all out anyway.
By last year our group had dwindled to six. And with the alley closing, we thought our days were numbered. I was now closing in on 77 myself, but wasn't really ready to retire.
Then lo and behold, we were rescued by another group who welcomed a few stray bowlers, and we found a new alley. Let the games begin.
Lyn Beahan, of Amherst, began bowling when she was in ninth grade and has been enjoying it ever since.