At Eastshore Aikikai, where I practice Aikido, we’re pushing the geriatric envelope pretty hard. I’m in my mid-fifties and I’m in no way the oldest person in the dojo; there are also several students who are only a few years younger than I am. Get off my lawn, you whippersnappers or I’ll throw you off.
My mother is in her 80s, though, and she still belongs to a bowling league. Granted, bowling is a lot lower impact than Aikido. It’s also the only one of two sports I know of where people regularly die during participation, the other being golf. Of course the reason for that is that both are sports that have participants of any age, including the very old.
Or the very young. Tiger Woods famously appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at the age of 2. I wasn’t that young when I began bowling, but I started before I entered grade school, although I didn’t join a league until some years later. My dad was manager at a total of three bowling alleys over the years, and I was in a league in all of them.
You’d think I would have gotten really good at it, but actually I was only in the upper reaches of average. The highest I ever scored was 236, and my league average hovered around 170 from late high school to the last league I was in, sometime in the late 80s. the highest it ever got was about 175. I’ve fallen away from the faith since then, so nowadays I bowl a little less often than I golf, which is to say every year or two, when I’m visiting relatives. My bowling is still a lot better than my golf, however.
Being in a bowling league is interesting from an intellectual snob’s standpoint. Despite numerous attempts to move upscale, bowling is still a pretty working class activity, so you wind up rubbing shoulders with truck drivers, beauticians, policemen, and mail carriers. That’s all to the good, in my opinion. It did become less fun when automatic scoring came in, since it eliminated my natural ecological niche: scorekeeper. In fact, I was keeping score in my parents’ leagues well before I belonged to a league on my own.
I’ve occasionally joked that I’m genetically selected for bowling, given that my parents met in a bowling league. It was better joke when I was bowling regularly and I could show people that my right thumb was bigger than my left. I still own two bowling balls, plus bags, shoes, etc.
After my car was broken into in college, where the thieves smashed a window to get in, I took to keeping my car unlocked, never leaving anything in it that was more valuable than repairing a broken window. The only significant thing that’s been stolen since then was my bowling bag, with ball. The humor there was almost worth the loss; a used bowling ball is worth maybe fifty cents, the bag a dollar or two. I like to imagine the thief hauling the sixteen pound ball into the pawn shop or thrift store, only to find out that he’d have made more money panhandling.
Some of my earliest memories are of bowling alleys (I still call them alleys, never having gotten used to saying “bowling lanes”). I’m just barely old enough to remember pin boys, before automatic pin spotters came in. In Nashville, they were invariably black, with the phrase “pin boys” echoing the generally demeaning practice of calling all black men in a service job “boy.” I don’t have any specific recollection of any of the pin boys, but I do have the general recollection that they were all teenagers, given the athletics necessary to hop up onto a perch above the pins when the ball came down the alley, then jump down and reset the pins when time came.
The woman who handed out the bowling shoes was not in her teens, however. She was a middle aged black woman whose name I don’t quite recall, but I want to say, “Miz Abigail,” or “Miz Abbey.” She befriended the little 2-3 year old tyke and let me stay behind the desk with her and hand out the shoes.
I learned, many years later, that the bowling league that my parents belonged to included a company team sponsored by the firm of Acuff-Rose, which included one of the principals, Fred Rose, and one of the artists managed by Acuff-Rose, Hank Williams. Williams died in 1953, and Rose in 1954. The dates are such that it’s just barely possible that I once handed Hank Williams his bowling shoes.
I’ve heard a possibly apocryphal story that Lyndon Johnson insisted on including the public accommodations portion of the 1964 Civil Right Act so that his old housekeeper wouldn’t have to “pee in the bushes” when she drove from Texas up to Washington to visit. It has the ring of truth, because Johnson took his politics personally. He might listen to varying interpretations of the commerce clause, but in the end he knew that politics came down to a pissing match, and a good many southern boys have at least one Miz Abigail in among their warmest memories.
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