|Now I know who has been eating my strawberries|
I am a former member of the Tuesday Morning Ladies League. I bowled with them for about nine years. After a few years, though, I began to realize that I wasn’t enjoying myself as much as I did when I first joined the league.
I found that I was not as enthusiastic about the game itself as some of the other members. I always tried my best, though.
When Joe became ill, my interest in many things waned, including bowling.
I tried to keep up with it, but as Joe's illness progressed and his health declined, I eventually quit the league.
Each August, though, I would get a phone call from the league secretary. She would gently try to persuade me to come back.
This August I gave in and agreed to join once again.
Yesterday was the first day of the new bowling season.
On the drive over to Thunderbird lanes, I thought about the first year I bowled. The league consisted of about 12 teams with four women on each team. The average age of the women was probably around 60.
The long metal cafeteria size tables, which were set up on the floor above the alleys, each displayed as much of a diverse and unique personality as did the women who occupied their space.
Each team seemed to have its own common little quirks. Members of one team would have weekly advertising circulars spread out on their tables and they would use the time between their turns cutting out coupons or checking out local sales.
Another team seemed to be the breakfast club, with bags of bagels and egg sandwiches set up on their table.
Team number four’s table was easily recognizable by the constant smoke curls rising from long filter tipped cigarettes resting in dollar store ashtrays and forming thick ashy clouds which hovered above their heads.
Decks of playing cards laid face down on the table of the team in charge of the poker game. The game was one of skill and chance. Those who participated would get one card if they made a spare and two cards if they scored a strike. The winner would be the one who had the best poker hand at the end of each bowling game.
I was always interested in the craft table. That’s where the knitters and crocheters hung out.
A large empty coffee can and rolls of yellow tickets occupied the table of the team who managed the fifty-fifty lottery.
Not every team sat at a table, mainly because you had to arrive early to get one.
The ladies who were with me on team number 7 usually sat in the chairs down in the pit.
We would sometimes get annoyed when we had to wait for the smokers or the crafters to put down their cigarettes or knitting and amble down into the pit to take their turn.
Once bowling got underway, the noise level rose with sounds of rolling thunder balls and loud cracks of crashing pins. Outbursts of laughter, cheers, clapping and high fives filled the room along with the muted moans and groans of missed shots.
During the nine years I was with the league, as each year passed, significantly noticeable changes took place.
We began to trade in our 12 pound balls for lighter ones. We didn’t approach the lanes with the same spring in our step. Our ages were inversely proportional to our bowling averages. When once averages of 150 or higher were the norm, by the time I resigned, averages of 120 were more likely.
Illnesses and injuries took their toll and the league got smaller and smaller. When I left about two plus years ago, the number of teams had dropped from twelve to nine. Some of the teams had only three members instead of four.
It was much easier to get a spot at one of the tables. Smoking was no longer permitted inside of the building. The fifty-fifty lottery was no longer allowed. The cheering and laughter became quieter and somewhat subdued.
Even though these changes were already taking place when I left the league, I was not prepared for what awaited me when I walked through the automatic glass doors on my first day back at bowling.
The number of teams listed on the white board was now only seven. The quiet sound of hushed voices made me feel as though I had walked into a library instead of a bowling alley.
When I looked around the sparsely filled room, I saw only a handful of familiar faces. I did not recognize most of the women.
As I walked down towards where my new team was settling, I overheard snatches of conversations. I heard illness words like cancer, and heart valve replacements, injury words like knee replacements and rotator cuff surgery, caregiver's talk of "finding someone to stay with him" while they bowled, and widow's talk of grief and loneliness.
I was reminded of the last time I bowled and memories of Joe and his illness came flooding into my not so healed heart.
While I waited for practice time to be announced, I spotted an old team mate of mine. She was leaning on one of those therapeutic walking canes and I wondered how she would manage to bowl. She wore pink and blue plaid capris which hung loosely on her now thin frame. Wispy white hair framed her beautifully lined face. I noticed a man helping her get her bowling gear out of her bag.
After the man left, I walked up to Louise. She smiled at me and I smiled back. I said hello and she said hello back to me. I asked her if she remembered me. She leaned in close to my face studying me with cloudy blue eyes. In a barely audible voice, she said, "No, dear, I really don't know anyone anymore."
I told her that I used to be on her team. She asked my name. When I told her, she just smiled at me. I knew then that her memories were of long, long ago and not of me.
At that moment I was overwhelmed with sadness. I had a strong urge to run back through the automatic glass doors. I wasn't sure I could hold back my emotions as I felt tears stinging my eyes.
As I sat there trying to re-gain my composure, I felt someone's arm on my shoulder. She bent over and gave me a hug and told me how happy she was to see me. She said she was very glad I decided to come back.