Every Wednesday morning when I was a child my mother would take my brother and I to a bowling alley. She had her own ball and shoes back then, and we looked forward to her dragging that black swollen case out of the hall closet to the trunk of our Buick.
I don’t know what it was about those mornings that appealed to us…maybe it was a break in the menu of grilled cheese sandwiches and afternoon naps, but somehow those dark, dreary lanes and all that swirling smoke felt deliriously mocking of her motherly role. There was the smell of frozen meat thawing, french fries in greasy bins, socks unleashed, and body odors grossly perplexing me as to their origins. There were racks of worn shoes, bottles of booze, and lane after lane of broken down hangdog housewives throwing gutter balls.
Back then I gave little thought to the plight of women and their weekly respite from daily household duties. I just loved the release and roll of the ball…the sound of it gliding down a lane…the excitement building…and then the explosive collision. All that momentum and build up leveled me. We would raise our arms in the air precisely as the hard rubber sphere smashed into pins, sending those little wooden soldiers flying. I remember how my brother and I would hold our breath, wait for impact, followed by the feverish scratch of pencils on scorecards. We would watch in amazement as the machine scraped back the downed pins, then miraculously push my mom’s black ball back up the spinning belt once again.
Strange how I never thought that bowling required skill. We didn’t even realize it was a sport, as it seemed not to fall into that category…like hot dog speed eating, or the distance one could launch a cricket into space with a slingshot. For us, it was just a mid-week event that broke the monotony of childhood. A day in which we learned to appreciate bowling…as if an art form – the drop of a cigarette into an ashtray, the blowing of fingertips before insertion into black holes, the feet planted on laminated hardwood, the ball cradled in a palmed prayer, the backward swing, toss, and all important followthrough pose. I remember being proud of my mom…how she wore a hat on her head that looked like a frisbee struggling to achieve orbit against bobby pin odds. Next to our mundane lives of coloring and building blocks, it felt devilish. We had no idea it was something our mother did to occupy her time so that she didn’t lose her mind.
Back then feelings seemed as containable as bowling lanes. Somehow my mom learned to stifle the knowledge she had more to offer, knowing and fearing that it would remain smothered in motherhood. For years she seemed to hang on, and then it was over…the dream escaped. I’m not saying she hasn’t found her share of happiness…but that happiness is surely not the same thing as the fulfillment of being free to dream and explore ones’ potential.
Nowadays, I can only guess very few mothers hit the lanes to let it all hang out with regularity. They seem too busy shuttling their kids to events, wrestling with machines at the gym, and surgically pickling and preserving themselves at day spas…resurfacing with faces and bodies tight as the frogs I used to pin back and dissect in high school.