When my mom permanently put her Jack’s Tire and Oil bowling shirt in the closet last week, it was an event of such magnitude that I was tempted to look at the newspaper’s scoreboard ledger for verification.
Every Wednesday after my mom cooked dinner for five kids, she hurried to change from her Safeway work uniform into a shirt that in the beginning said Bullen’s Equipment.
She would pick up her bowling shoes and stuff them into a bag with a bowling ball that was treated with the same reverence a kid would give to his 32-ounce Mickey Mantle Louisville Slugger.
Wednesday night was bowling night at my house. Always and forever. It wasn’t a night out. It was an event.
I’d wait up, sometimes peering into snow drifts and icicles long past bedtime, wondering if my mom would make it safely up Old Man Hill. She would never miss the Wednesday night women’s bowling league at Logan Lanes.
I would meet her at the door and ask if she beat her old rivals, Dixie Oakden and Evelyn Chambers, which remains, in my lifetime, rivalries that compare to Yankees vs. Dodgers and Utah State vs. BYU.
On some nights, Dixie Oakden would bowl a 218 to beat my mom’s 214. Or Evelyn Chambers would roll a 612 series to my mom’s 607.
“They are really good,” she would say. “They’re the best in town.”
This began in 1952. It went on through Elvis and the Beatles, through grandkids and great-grandkids. If she missed a Wednesday night, it was only because she had a hip replaced or a Halloween festival for the kids at the Hillcrest School.
For a few decades, my mom found space for more than 100 bowling trophies, scattered in every conceivable room, upstairs and downstairs, in our house on Lynwood Avenue. About the only change in routine came when Bullen’s Equipment ended 38 years as the sponsor of her four-woman team. A year later, someone sewed “Jack’s Tire and Oil” on the back of her bowling shirt, a union that lasted 30 years.
Last Wednesday, after 68 years, my mom did not drive down Old Main Hill to Logan Lanes. She has arthritis in the fingers of her bowling hand and even though she bought a new, much lighter, 10-pound bowling ball, she could no longer pick up that 8-10 split.
One night she bowled a 98 and then a 109. She used to shake her head in dismay if she bowled anything less than 180. Her name is still on the Hall of Fame wall at Logan Lanes for a 185 average, the third-highest since the bowling alley opened in 1958.
“When I bowled that 98, I knew it was time,” she says. “I’m the oldest person in the league.”
So at 88, she began to wonder what she would do with her Wednesday nights. My dad, who was on her Friday night mixed league for almost 40 years, died 10 years ago.
After he died, mom kept bowling. She kept winning trophies, and although she wasn’t the best women’s bowler in town any more, her standards didn’t change.
“I’m down to a 150 average,” she told me a few years ago, sounding a bit like Tony Gwynn saying he only hit .299 in a baseball season.
“But you’re 80,” I would say.
It didn’t matter; she always had another Dixie Oakden in the lane next to her, another Evelyn Chambers to beat.
This goes beyond a remarkable 68-year bowling career. It goes into the life-changing department.
I became a sportswriter — a lifetime job that doesn’t really seem like a job — because of my mom and Bullen’s Equipment and Dixie Oakden and those 14-pound Brunswick bowling balls.
Every Saturday morning for as long as I can remember, my mom would sit at the kitchen table with a pile of scorecards from Logan Lanes bowling teams. She was the league’s statistician/reporter, a responsibility she embraced and did without pay.
In the years before computers (we couldn’t afford a calculator), she would add the scores of each bowler’s three games and compile yearly averages for that bowler and the team. She would figure out the league standings for every team, listing all on a hand-written sheet.
She would then drive to the Logan Herald-Journal and submit them to the sports editor, Joe Watts or Gary Rawlings or Kurt McGregor. Without fail, those standings and those scores would appear in the Tuesday sports section, and I think everyone in town read them.
I sometimes accompanied my mom to the Herald-Journal and take a self-guided tour of the newsroom, getting to know the sportswriters, listening to their tales of a Utah State victory over Utah, listening to stories about the great Merlin Olsen.
I was not only drawn to the operation of the newspaper and its writers, but even more to the process of compiling the bowling statistics and then, as if by magic, seeing my mom’s work in the sports section a day later.
I knew then I wanted to be a sportswriter. I was 10. I consumed each day’s paper. My mom subscribed to the Salt Lake Tribune just so I could read the box scores and John Mooney’s column.
When I got to high school, my mom’s relationship with the newspaper put me on a career path from which I never wavered. The sports editor who typed up my mom’s bowling statistics, Gary Rawlings, asked if I wanted to cover the Logan High School football and basketball games.
We didn’t have a typewriter, but when I told my mom about the job, she borrowed an old Underwood from our neighbor. I would hunt-and-peck my way through the Logan Grizzlies games of 1968 and thereafter.
That Christmas, my mom bought me a typewriter. I was overjoyed; for once, it was better than a pair of skis or a Rawlings baseball mitt. A few years later, I became the sports editor of the Logan Herald-Journal and every week typed up my mom’s handwritten bowling statistics from the Wednesday night ladies’ league.
On the weeks the “high game” category would say “Joye Hansen, 214,” I would stop and type very slowly, taking care to avoid a typo.
She has been the real Louisville Slugger of my life.