At one of my writing workshops, attendee Carol Gallo read to us something she wrote about her bowling experience that brought back memories of my introduction to the pastime.
When I was 17, I worked for Iselin-Jefferson, a New York factor. The women had a bowling team and were short a player.
“Bowl?” I said. “I never tried it.” Smiling, the girls looked at each other. “Don’t worry, we’ll teach you.”
The first ball they gave me was so heavy I dropped it. I chose a lighter one. Keeping the ball from rolling down the gutter proved challenging.
“I know what will help,” one of the players said. In a flash, she returned with a sweet drink, a Brandy Alexander. I’d never had alcohol except wine mixed with seltzer at Passover. No one questioned whether I was old enough to drink.
Each time I got up to roll the ball, the team members gathered round for encouragement. For weeks we bowled; I doubt I ever made a strike. If I hit more than five pins, a roar went up from my team.
At the end of the season, there was a huge banquet. My father, an athlete all his life, was excited.
“My little girl, bowling,” he smiled, not realizing I was the team handicap.
Unbelievable but true, our team came in first because my scores were so low: Our handicap was huge! Not only were we applauded, but each girl on the team received a trophy. When I took it home, my father was in ecstasy, telling everyone about what a great bowler his daughter was. You’d think I’d won an Olympic medal.
Another memorable experience at Iselin-Jefferson occurred in the lunchroom. In those days we brought our lunch, unless we splurged and went to Chock Full O'nuts. Each day the older women, mostly of Italian heritage, talked about the tasty dinner they’d prepared. For weeks I listened to their descriptions of foods I’d never heard of — ravioli, Italian sausage, rigatoni and other Mediterranean specialties. I never said a word, until one day, I piped up with, “We had a great meal last night.”
Dead quiet. Everyone stopped talking and looked at me. Maria, one of the Italian women, said, “Really? What did your mom make for dinner?” They knew I lived at home; I was just a kid.
Finally I had something to boast about. “Spaghetti,” I responded, “We had spaghetti.”
With arched eyebrows, she continued, “Who made the sauce?”
“Sauce?” I innocently replied. “What sauce? We used ketchup.”
Years later, after I moved to Los Angeles, married, and had two beautiful daughters, I was in New York visiting my parents. Walking along Fifth Avenue, I ran into the woman who had introduced me to bowling and alcohol. After chatting for a few minutes, we went in different directions. Suddenly, she called back, “Alexis, do you still put ketchup on your spaghetti?”
Some things, it seems, you never forget.