Have you ever done something silly or out of the ordinary because you were alone? Something that if you did it in front of others would be totally embarrassing? That definitely was what I was doing at 16 years old. I was in a school bowling league on Monday nights and my form was on my mind. My family was in other rooms that night and I had the living room to myself. Over and over I practiced my bowling approach. Usually using 5 steps I tried to emulate some of the great bowlers I had seen on TV. One bowler that I remember trying to copy was named Bob Strampe.
Bob Strampe, Deliberately good!
Bob had a very deliberate form as each step he took was slow and methodical. He walked straight ahead with one foot going precisely in front of the other much like he was walking a tight rope. Dick Weber was my favorite bowler. He used the 5 step approach too but his steps were much more direct and with speed. The thing about Weber that the commentators always mentioned was his level of concentration. You could see it as you watched him bowl and his eyes were just staring ahead as to where he wanted to roll the ball. You almost felt that if an explosion had taken place in the building Weber wouldn’t have noticed. Weber also had a different way of following through as his arm flung more to the side after his delivery. Ray Bluth had a very odd stance as he started to bowl. Ray had his arm flexed much like someone flexing their muscle only with their arm in front instead of on the side. Cupped in that flexed arm rested his ball. His wrist which was bent backwards in his stance would slowly become uncoiled as would his arm as he approached the line. Some bowlers started with their balls almost down by their knees such as Dave Soutar and Carmen Salvino while Fred Lenning had his ball right at waist level. Then there was Harry (the tiger) Smith who rocked his ball up and down before he started his approach.
After I had emulated the styles of these highly successful pro bowlers over and over I noticed some movement outside the window. It was an extremely dark night and the curtain was opened and the light in our house must have seemed extremely bright. Kneeling outside with a clear view were a bunch of neighborhood kids. As they realized that I finally had seen them they all started howling in laughter. Among all the laughter I heard the loud laughter of Lloyd, an outgoing kid who was always looking for a good laugh anyway and found it at my expense. I’m sure he discovered my show and had encouraged everyone to take a look. In my embarrassment and with my heart picking up a hundred beats I quickly closed the curtains. My comedy show was officially over and I dreaded the ridicule that would follow.
One time when I was 9 or 10 a bunch us decided we wanted to go bowling. Airway Lanes was maybe a half a mile from our house and we set out to get there. To avoid walking along the main road our path was to cut through fields, back yards, and a place we called the sand hills. The sand hills was a dumping ground surrounded by apple and pear trees. Anyway this was in the middle of winter and there was snow everywhere. On a recent trip to Alabama my grandpa had given me a dollar and my uncle Billy had given me five. I had never had so much money before! I remember going bowling with the gang before and everyone bringing a dollar. One dollar could buy two games at forty cents each and rent shoes for twenty cents. I was so excited to go bowling I took all six dollars with me. What I would do with all that money I didn’t know. It was in a tiny little fold over brown holder with plastic inside and I had it in my coat pocket with my hand securely on it. Yes, I was afraid that my money would somehow fall out of my pocket and I thought that keeping my hand on it would keep it secure. Walking swiftly with the gang the bowling building was in sight. Suddenly unexpectedly I slipped and fell down. My hand must have automatically came out of my pocket to stop my fall. I was OK but when I put my hand back into my coat pocket I discovered that my little money holder was gone. I called a halt to the gang and asked them to help me look. I knew exactly when it happened yet the container was nowhere to be found. Obviously it fell in the snow and wasn’t easily spotted. The gang looked with me for five or ten minutes and someone very easily could have found and kept it. I ended up turning around and walking home. With no money I couldn’t go bowling and I didn’t feel like it anyway. I was heartbroken as I told my sad tale when I arrived. My mom sent my sister to help me look immediately but once again we came up empty handed.
My dad used to take me bowling on my birthday when I was young. We went to the same Airway Lanes that I mentioned earlier. It was the best bowling establishment in town at that time with as they described “40 beautiful lanes.” My dad enjoyed bowling with me and I enjoyed the time with him. He worked a lot and we didn’t always have time together, but my birthday was always a special day! We would get a house ball that they had on racks on the walls. The balls that fit my fingers were the light balls that had a speckled design on them. I think I bowled with a ten pound ball. I never had a lesson in bowling. I remember being a two handed bowler back then. I guess I felt like I could get more behind it. We always bowled three games except for one year. I think we were both doing badly and dad thought two games was enough. I remember being hugely disappointed that day thinking that it was my fault we didn’t bowl the third game like we always did.
If you want to see how everyone is different all you have to do is go to a bowling alley and watch bowling. You will find that everyone bowls differently. There are people that walk up to the line slowly and people who almost run. You will see people that roll the ball slow and others who whip it. You will see wild hook balls and others straight as an arrow. Still other people throw what they call a backup ball that curves the opposite way. You will see people who literally throw the ball and it makes a thud to others who roll it smoothly. Tall, short, and in between people as well as skinny and heavy people are all represented in bowling. There are serious bowlers who throw tantrums after misses and there are the happy go lucky types that laugh their way through. There are people who drink and bowl and others who goof around. You could easily compare a bowlers style with how people live their lives.
I don’t bowl much these days but we did bowl the other day at Airway. There was Gary my retired friend, myself, and my son. That in itself covers a lot of age difference. Bowling is a great game that way as all ages can participate! Gary is such a great guy that whatever we are doing he adds his ability to make us laugh. He doesn’t take himself seriously in his scores. In fact he usually is critical of himself. If he throws a strike he comes back saying he was lucky. It’s funny how my son and I will always build that strike up while he is tearing it down. Gary is an encourager and selflessly tries to make others better. He could bowl or golf terribly but if someone else did well it is all worthwhile to him.
I actually made the 5-7 split the other day. Although it isn’t a big split it is big enough. You have to hit the five pin thinly on it’s side and slide it over across the alley where it hits the seven. Making a shot like that reminds me of the greatest trick shot bowler I have ever seen. His name was Andy Varipapa and I only saw him on TV but he did tricks I couldn’t believe. He rolled two balls at the same time and they crossed paths as each one hit a pin in the dreaded 7-10 split. He also could jump alleys with his ball and roll a strike on another alley. This video is amazing!
Bowling has changed through the years. I remember when it was a big deal for someone to roll a perfect 300 game. Now it seems there is a long list in the paper. I have never seen the pins explode like they do now. With modern technology and the way they oil the lanes high scores are encouraged. It seems that the higher the scores the more people like to bowl. The more they like to bowl the more they will come and the more profit for the bowling establishment. Even though the bowlers I used to emulate had lower averages than they do today I think they were just as good and probably better. They had to concentrate on the fundamentals of consistency and spare shooting too! Speaking of a consistent bowler I never saw one that compared to Earl Anthony. He had a crew cut and glasses and didn’t look athletic at all but oh how he consistently rolled that ball from the left side. He was so smooth and could throw the same ball over and over. Changes in the equipment and lane conditions should not dim his bowling greatness. Airway Lanes has changed over the years too. Today it also has other family things you can do like Go Karts, Miniature Golf, and Arcade Games. It has far more to offer than just the bowling alleys like back in the day. One time I noticed someone walking into Airway with his golf clubs. I learned that they also had a golf simulator game in the bowling building. Talk about many interests under one roof!
Earl Anthony…So consistent!
There are certain things that I have learned through my bowling experiences that are life experiences too. I have learned that everyone is different. Like bowling styles God made us all unique. In our uniqueness he has a big picture in mind. It is a picture of using all of our vast differences for the good of the whole! My bowling experiences have taught me to be happy with time spent together and not to get bogged down in expectations. I learned not to take false blame for everything that happens and just to enjoy the moment. I have learned through bowling and watching bowling that being consistent like Earl Anthony should be my goal, not only in bowling but life. When people see me I want them to discover that I am the same in good times and bad. Losing my money on my trip to the bowling alley taught me to not cling to worldly things that will soon pass. The reason that I lost the money was because I was so concerned that I would. Like Jesus said in Matthew 16:25. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” It brings to mind Matthew 6:20 where Jesus tells us to store up our treasures not on this earth but in heaven where they are safe. Lastly Andy Varipapa taught me that the worst situations can be overcome by tricks and know how! He enjoyed being on stage and showing off his magnificent talents! He enjoyed being the center of attention! Perhaps with this know how I could turn my most embarrassing experience to my advantage the next time I’m in a similar spot! When on stage as my audience is howling in laughter and the show ends I should always remember to take a bow or two before the curtain closes!