When I first moved to Magnolia, there was a bowling alley here — some of you longtime residents, no doubt, remember it fondly.

The Magnolia Bowling Alley was a small one: only eight lanes. It was located on West McGraw Street where the liquor store, Peoples Bank and birk clothiers are now. 

There was another bowling alley just a short ride over the bridge in Ballard, too. 

Unfortunately, the neighborhood bowling alleys are one of those many things that have disappeared. I don’t know where you’d find one nowadays.

A learning experience

My father used to bowl. I remember watching him leave the house, carrying his case with his bowling ball and his bowling shoes, off for a night of companionship and fun with some of the guys he worked with.

He used to tell me stories of how, when he was growing up during the Depression, he used to work two jobs: one as a pin setter in a bowling alley, and another as a parking-lot attendant, parking cars.

The bowling alley job didn’t sound like a fun one. This was back in the days before automatic pin-setting machines and you had to be constantly aware of what was going on at the head of the alley because there were times when you’d find the bowlers firing their next ball down the alley at you.

When we lived down in California, it seemed like every neighborhood had a bowling alley. I don’t remember the exact time when Pop taught me to first fling a ball down an alley, but I’m sure it was a long process involving many gutter balls.

We had a couple of neighbors with whom my parents were good friends. It was their sons, Ricky and Craig, with whom I formed a good bond, and when I was in the fifth or sixth grade, we went bowling every week during the summer.

Mom would drive us down to the alleys and drop us off with the admonishment “Call me when you need to be picked up.” We knew we’d better keep it at around three hours.

Another thing that Mom liked was that scoring would improve our math abilities because this was before the days of automatic scoring machines, too. We needed to work it out with pencil and paper, and the alley always gave you those stubby, little pencils. 

A strike … out

So there we were, on a random summer weekday, walking into a bowling alley and paying at the front desk. The guy running the desk would assign us an alley, give us a paper score sheet and then we’d give up our shoe sizes because we didn’t have our own bowling shoes. The guy would then pull a pair of shoes out of the rack behind him and move on to the next customer.

We’d go down to our designated alley and put on our shoes. Because none of us had our own balls, we’d start our search for a ball that not only fit our finger spreads but also one that conformed to our weight requirements. It didn’t make much sense to have an 11-year-old trying to swing a man’s large, heavy ball.

We’d just be dressed in our normal summer attire, which meant a T-shirt and shorts. As we looked around the alley, some of the other bowlers were resplendent in outfits that seemed to beg for more attention. 

The ones that really caught our attention, however, were the team bowling shirts from such places as “Louie’s Automatic Transmission Repair” or “Chain-Belt Cement Mixers.” These we usually worn by determined-looking men and women, usually with a few half-empty beer glasses in front of them, who were bowling with dead seriousness. We knew better than to try to mess with them.

Halfway through our big afternoon of bowling, we’d usually feel hunger pangs and would get an order of French fries from the coffee shop. Fries and bowling seemed to go together.

It was my turn to bowl, and I walked up to the ready area at the head of the alley. I picked up my ball from the automatic ball-return machine and stood still, lining myself up for what I hoped would be a strike. 

Holding the ball in front of me, I started my approach. As I swung the ball back, the grease from the fries took over and the ball slid out of my grip. It loudly crashed into the machine behind me and elicited serious laughter from my two buddies.

I sheepishly retrieved my ball. No damage was done, but I knew it was time to call Mom.

We finished our game, and soon, Mom rolled up in her ‘53 Dodge. “You guys have a good time?” she asked as we piled into the car.

“Yeah,” Ricky exclaimed, “your son threw a ball at one of the ball-return machines.”

I knew dinner conversation that night was going to be all about my little misadventure. Pop didn’t find it all that funny. From then on, I didn’t eat while we bowled. 

GARY McDANIEL is a longtime Magnolia resident. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.