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Bowling offered lessons to spare

I never knew what other kids did with their Saturdays in the '60s.

In my family, we bowled.

A 10-pound bowling ball inside a bicycle basket was quite the challenge on the bumpy sidewalks of U.S. 19 over in Pinellas Park, so I would often take the back roads, zigzagging through empty tracts south of Park Boulevard.

The trip always ended at a place called Sunshine Bowl.

I can't remember the last time I was there - early '80s, maybe, before South Tampa hooked me for good - but I guess there won't be another time.

Sunshine Bowl won't be rebuilt. Hurricanes Charley and Jeanne tore the roof; then came the fire. Owners sold, and now a developer plans to put up retail space.

If bowling alleys got eulogies, I would say a few words.

After all, this was a bowling alley that people regularly named in their obituaries, as if it were a survivor. The only professional photograph that my parents and grandparents had taken together was a team photo for Sunshine Bowl. In my mother's handwritten address book, there was always an entry for the bowling alley. The front room of our Park Boulevard house looked like a trophy store, prizes inscribed with Sunshine Bowl's name and our own names.

Mom? Secretary of the Wednesday night Funtime Mixed League. She earned her mad money that way. Dad sponsored the Park Trailer Sales team. (He also made it once onto the television show Bowling for Dollars.) Together, they bowled on Sundays and Wednesdays. Uncle David was a lane boy growing up. Grandpa Keller helped out the Saturday wheelchair league.

My first journalism job was to report bowling scores from Sunshine Bowl. I was in junior high school and, I should confess, was paid $5 a week by the bowling alley itself, not the newspaper. Each week, I would shape the scores into prose for the Pinellas Park Post, squeezing my brain to avoid rampant repetition of the verb "bowl," producing such constructions as, "Big Don Olton uncorked a powerful 258 game."

I could get into no trouble at the bowling alley. The place was crawling with people my parents knew. Jerry Krauss, Fred Hoyer and Gilbert Baschab, the owners. Bea Klostermeier, who ran the control desk. Harry Beierlein, who coached most of us kids, from the little ones who toddled up to the foul line and threw the ball two-handed between their legs to the big ones who won tournaments. And, much later, Ruby Harris, who got me a government office job that helped pay for college.

It wasn't only my parents who knew people. Everyone knew everyone. It didn't take a village, just a bowling ball.

Friendships were forged, hardened by the blast of air conditioning that coaxed people into lingering longer to stave off a sticky night's sleep. The bonds spilled over into beach picnics and dinner cruises.

Our parents were always bringing home people who wore matching shirts with their names embroidered on the front. Ruth and Earl. Betty and Ron. Mary Lou and Frank. We would tiptoe out of bed to wander through the living room and get a whiff of their big night out.

They would arrive with the composite scent of the bowling alley, of cigarette smoke and peanuts and beer, dismissing the babysitter so that they could dissect victory or defeat.

The next day, my mother would sit at a card table in the living room, computing bowling averages and handicaps for her entire league.

And the following Saturday, it would be our turn again, in the kids divisions.

On holidays, we bowled as a family, stuffed with turkey and Grandma's potato salad.

Somewhere between elementary school addition and junior high algebra, I learned the mathematics of scoring strikes and spares, along with the esoteric formula for computing handicaps.

Those things stick in my head, even when I can't remember where I put my keys.

I don't think Sunshine Bowl was a stop on the highway, so much as it was a place in our lives, as untouchable by bulldozer as our Park Boulevard home, later flattened for a Taco Bell.

I can go into any bowling alley now and hear Grandma Mabel's gravely voice between the cracking of the pins, along with my father's explosive laughter.

There were lessons learned on the lanes. No one stood at a lectern and spoke them. They came as if by osmosis, as we watched the way people conducted themselves in a bowling alley.

Among the lessons were these:

That half of life is in the approach.

That it's important to follow through.

That it's quite possible to be too direct.

That precision and restraint carry far more power than the use of all your might. That even when you do everything right, the world can hand you a split. That you can screw things up royally and still get lucky.

And, if you don't keep your shoes clean, you could slip into the gutter.

Patty Ryan, assistant metro editor for the Times in Tampa, can be reached at pryan@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3382.

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