My parents were bowlers. I grew up in bowling alleys, both duckpin and tenpin lanes. League play, always. And they were good, too. Lots and lots of trophies. Mom counted some of the biggest names in the sport as her friends. Dad even managed a lane for a year or so, between “real” jobs, and put me to work spraying and sorting bowling shoes.

I myself bowled in a couple of kids’ leagues, and won two trophies of my own.

For a number of years in my youth, Dad had a troubled relationship with money. I suspect it came from growing up lower-middle class, in a tiny bungalow in the poor part of Takoma Park, Maryland, with an insular, intemperate, racist, dry alky of a father, and a sweet, longsuffering, and ineffectual mother.

Dad was an accountant, and a brilliant tax consultant. But for several years, he had trouble keeping a job, and we fell into debt. I remember lying to debt collectors on the phone for him, and all of us hiding from people who would come to our door and demand payment.

At one point our electricity was shut off. It was late autumn, as I recall, and quite chilly, so we burned what wood we had for warmth and light in the evening, and when the wood was gone, Dad went to the bowling alley and came back with boxes of bowling pins, old castoffs they were going to get rid of anyway. The plastic coating and the hardwood beneath made them superlative fireplace fodder.

One night I remember my mother and I sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (of course she couldn’t cook a real meal, since everything in the house ran on electricity). She took my face in her hand and turned it so that I looked deeply into her eyes.

“There’s just one thing to remember,” she said. “We are not poor.” When that sank in, she finished her thought: “We just don’t have any money. There’s a difference.”

I thought of the “poor people,” those folks in town who had old cars and junk in their yard, and let their children run around like banshees. We had pride. We kept a nice house, I always wore clean clothes, always held the door for others, always had respect for others. We were not poor. We were never poor.

Somehow it sank in that poverty was a state of mind, a way of looking at the world. I’m guessing wealth is, too, but that hasn’t sunk in yet. My father’s fears are an inheritance I wish I had never received.

Categories: Psychology | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Bowling

  1. indigobunting

    Wow. Wow. Amazing post. That last line so powerful, and resonates with me…

  2. This is a wonderful post and is silky in the movement from intro to the real meat.

    It is unfortunate that feelings such as those are the inheritance of so many.

    Even today, as I’m sure you will understand, if I had ten dollars to spend, spent on another I’d see it gladly, spent on myself, I’d see it a waste.

    Let us hope the next blog tells us what to do with such an inheritance.

  3. My upbringing was much the same in most ways, but my boyhood memories of a certain bowling alley are entirely happy. Not so much the bowling…I rarely bowled. No, in the bowling alley they had pinball machines and I got so good at it that a quarter would last me hours because I kept winning free games. Yes, Craig, you are in the presence of a former Pinball Wizard.

  4. indigobunting

    There has to be a twist.

  5. Deloney, I believe I might be able to give you a run for your money, pinball-wise.

    In my college dorm there were two pinball machines in the basement, and I was eager to neglect my studies. I started off with a roll of quarters; within a week or two I never needed more than single quarter. In fact, I generally garnered such a nice surplus of free games that I could leave them for my dorm mates; they usually returned the favor by leaving the machine with one or two games, ready for my next marathon session.

    The downside (besides my grades): I developed a rather troubling tic in my left eye whenever I’d play for more than an hour at a time. The tic still shows up once in a great while when I’m extremely tired or stressed.

    The other downside: Pinball machines are such a rarity these days that I have no way to test myself anew. I am a dinosaur, and am not a great fan of video games. Or computer games, for that matter. Except Solitaire and their ilk.

  6. What a wonderful post. So vivid I could see you and your mother sitting there by the fire eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

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