Wayyyyyy back, when my sister and I were too young to be just left at home, parents had to make arrangements for ensuring we were cared for, amidst anything else they were doing.
Both worked, and we were old enough for school, so that covered a large part of the day. But Mom worked some evenings at the library, and…Dad was in a bowling league.
So while I do not recall the specific logistics of it, I do recall plenty of evenings at the bowling alley. Plenty of folks I didn’t know, and off the top of my head as I write this, I don’t even remember names for any of the other adults that were there; in this case, they’re maybe not the important part, though if any of you who would have been there happen to read this, please feel free to let me know…I’d love any memories to build onto these old ones I’ve carried!
I remember Dad would give us a couple/few dollars each, to play the various arcade games. I vaguely recall that I often blew through my coins pretty darned quick, and then would wander around and watch the demo screens and such. Looking back on that, maybe it sounds “sad” or something, but I remember genuinely enjoying that. (and I’ve “always” enjoyed WATCHING certain video games more than actively playing).
I especially remember frequently watching the cycle of demo screens for Street Fighter. I think I would look at it like a mini tv show or some such; with the repetetive intro and then different characters fighting each other. I’m pretty sure it was Street Fighter and NOT Street Fighter II.
I also remember Ms. Pac-Man. I feel like I recall both the “standard” arcade cabinet, but also the “lounge table” version, whatever those are called (“shame” on me for blanking, but stream of conscious writing here, you get what you get). I was never all that good at the game, as I recall…but it was fun. And I ALSO remember Dad enjoying it; whether I’m recalling that from the bowling alley or other arcade experiences.
(I’d even been planning to try to get him one of those Arcade 1 Up 3/4-scale cabinets of Ms. Pac-Man…but the HUGE increase in price since the MK one I got in 2019 put it off, as I knew he’d have been HORRIFIED at me spending that kinda money on him; as well as me understanding that while he’d CERTAINLY have gotten a kick out of it, it wasn’t something he’d actually USE all that much. Let alone even with the A1U riser, the scale might’ve been a bit of a problem for him)
There was also one of those “claw machines” with all the plushies and such. I always loved those; still do in a way; but probably goes back to that one at the bowling alley. I’d often manage to get SOMEthing if I devoted that night’s “entertainment allowance” to the thing. I vaguely remember this one man–I remember him as “old,” like “Grandpa-old,” and do not recall if he was in the league, or another one; or an employee, or what. I DO recall that Dad at least recognized him/knew of him (Dad let us have “the run” of much of the area, but as much freedom as I felt, I strongly suspect he had a far better eye on us than I was consciously aware of at the time).
And I remember one time watching this man put a single coin into the claw machine (oh, and this was back when you could play ’em for a single coin, none of this two-quarters or $1 or more crap!) and the claw dropped down, closed on something, then rose back up without whatever plush that was…and yet A LOT OF STUFF WAS MOVING. The claw mechanism had managed to close just right on some ribbon on a buried plush, so it hauled this plush rabbit or whatever up out from beneath all the other plushes that were visible–changing the dynamic of the layout–and dropped the thing out for him. I think he gave it to my sister, who I recall being right there watching as well.
And side-memory on the claw machine(s): I don’t recall where Dad had been–bowling alley, golf clubhouse, whatever; but I do remember one time he came home with a huge bundle of these plush puppies. I can’t QUITE visualize them specifically at the moment…I think I’m visualizing “Pound Puppies” toys. But they were all different colors, though the same “style”; especially in retrospect I know darned well they were obviously mass-produced. But he brought a bunch of these in; and it later turned out there were more out in the car in a plastic shopping bag. And I think I managed to get a couple more myself as they showed up in several claw machines or some such. Can’t recall what ever became of all of them, but obviously the memory is still there.
Another specific memory I have from that bowling alley is some little store or such that they had. I don’t so much remember the store itself as I remember there BEING one; because I remember one of the times getting a pack of Ninja Turtles trading cards! Who knows what my recollection has mixed up, but I think it was probably that first set, that came with the stick of bubble gum and had images from the original/first season of the cartoon. I do not recall if I would have spent my “arcade money” on that, or if I maybe begged Dad for extra; but I just have this random memory of carrying 1 pack of the cards in that bowling alley.
I do not recall if it was the same bowling alley or not, but I also remember being in a father/son bowling league for a single “season,” with Dad. I don’t really have any singular/specific memories of any particular moment of him “helping” me, but I’m sure he did; he was my start WITH bowling at all, ever. And whatever MY scores were, his were at least enough that, if I recall correctly, he and I won some first-place trophy from that. I’m not sure if I still HAVE that trophy (it may have been lost with stuff purged in the move from the old house a few years ago), but I had that thing for years, and have always at least “remembered” our sharing that time bowling and such and winning ANY trophy at all.
And while typing the above, I found ANOTHER memory of bowling and Dad: some sorta cub scout thing, most likely. I remember it being him, me, and a number of other boys. And Dad “challenged” us to “beat” him. And to be “sporting,” he stood back by the ball-receiver, adding the space from there to the lane itself to his bowling. Can’t remember if anyone DID beat him; I know I did not; but (if only deja vu of sorts now) I feel like I’ve always remembered that since, any time I’ve BEEN bowling…like just kinda looking at stuff and contemplating rolling the ball from back there without even stepping up to the actual lane.
As a final thought and because I don’t have enough memory of it to be its own post, might as well put it here: I was in a softball league one season as a kid. And I remember disliking it pretty quick…just wasn’t for me. BUT I do remember Dad making me stick with it for the season; combination of I think I was the one who asked to BE in the thing…and teaching some responsibility about finishing what one starts and seeing stuff through.
Deep breath and wistful sigh here, and feeling a hint of a smile and some sorta…satisfaction? Gratefulness? SOMEthing…even as I’m NOW tearing up a bit, but realizing that while many of these memories have been so long internalized and far from surface, conscious thoughts…Dad was always there for me. Always a part of stuff. Even when I was a little kid, he was THERE and present and participated IN my life…