Sunday, August 24, 2008

Burning the candlestick at both ends

On a particularly sullen-looking day during our recent vacation in Maine I had a bright idea.

What? I get bright ideas sometimes, don’t laugh.

It came about as I was taking a poll of what each member of the extended family wanted to do during our seven-day reunion.

The clan was sitting around on its duffs waiting for Maine’s state bird – The Mosquito – to vamoose. The sun was no where to be found. The mosquitoes were staying.

“Let’s go bowling,” I said, exuberantly.

Could you hear the groans from New York? No? Well, I was certain you could.

“Bowling? Bowling! Are you crazy?” my husband replied, the volume and pitch of his voice illustrating that there was no way on Earth the loud, smoke-filled lanes of his imagination were going to cut it for family fun. Not when he could be napping, anyway.

My imagination, on the other hand, drew pictures of Lavern and Shirley, sipping brewskis and pitching strikes and spares with The Big Ragu.

Nostalgia. Sure I was worried the kids wouldn’t really be able to participate fully; I pictured hulking bowling balls accidentally pitched through plate glass windows or dropped on tender piggy toes.

But I pressed on.

When we reached the alley, seven in tow, we soon found out how different New England bowling is from our ten-pin experiences.

“Oh. ... It’s candlestick bowling,” I chirp with glee after we paid the lady at the counter for the games and shoe rentals. “That’s CandlePIN bowling,” she good-naturedly corrects.

She must have thought me from mars when I asked for a three-part repetition of the rules.

What? You get THREE chances per frame instead of TWO?
What? Players get to shoot TWO frames per turn instead of ONE?
Really? The computer does the scoring for us? COOL.

Candlepin bowling, as it is really called, is unique to New England and maritime provinces in Canada. It was first played in Worcester, Mass. in 1880, 15 years before the sport was refined to the more common 10-pin standard. The differences (beside the rules of play and the shape of the pins) are smaller-sized balls (sans holes) that can be held in one’s hand, and the fact that the dead pins don’t get cleared from the alley between throws.

All of this means two things: It’s technically easier to play for all ages and abilities but more challenging to play well.

Once we had our shoes on we were ready to play.

So there we were. Standing in our adjoining alley’s sizing each other up.

TEAM ONE comprised Ittybit, her cousin and her father.
TEAM TWO was composed of myself, my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law.
The champ was a floater, getting handed back and fourth across the ball dispenser.

I felt good about our team’s chances: Collectively we are taller. I also feel confident because Ittybit can’t seem to wrap her head around the idea of wearing someone else’s shoes.

“Why do I have to wear socks?”

“Well, because we have to wear special shoes that other people have worn, too.”

“But why can’t I wear my own shoes.”

“Because the wood on the lanes is special and it has to be protected from outside dirt.”

“But inside dirt is ok?”

“Don’t worry about the dirt. Just remember that we’re taking turns.”

“OK … “ she says with uncertainty.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong about an easy victory.

In just a few frames my confidence proved overblown and her abilities blossomed.

She even developed a style …

She selected her ball from the dispenser and hop-skipped her way to the line. She swayed from side to side before she triangulated an underhand pitch from between her straddled legs. After the ball had left her hands and bounced down the alleyway, she did a little spin and sashayed back to the dispenser, where she draped herself over the hood like a fem fetal, waiting for the wood to fall dead.

I couldn’t help but laugh and the series of moves, the fluidity of which more resembled body Chinese than body English.

But I wasn’t laughing when she got a strike.

“Mom? Lets just stay here and go bowling every day.”

“If only we could. I could use the practice.”

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