Yes, the pins stopped falling


One of the most unsettling things about growing old is how time marches on, faster and faster as each year goes by. Someone surely has the pedal to the metal.

Often we’re reminded unexpectedly.

It happened to me recently when I was attending a girls hockey tournament at the new four-pad RBC Centre in Dartmouth Crossing.

My granddaughter Claire’s peewee team was playing an opponent from the Pictou area. While the ice was being resurfaced, a familiar face approached — a much older face than the last time I saw it.

As he smiled and extended his hand, the long-ago acquaintance offered a much-used expression: “It’s been a long, long time.”

Without thinking, I found myself telling him that, in just three months, it will be 50 years since my wife Jane and I moved from Pictou County to Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

We agreed we hadn’t seen each other in all that time.

That’s when he posed a rather interesting question. “What have you missed the most since leaving New Glasgow?”

With little thought, I took no more than a few seconds to blurt, “Besides the people, it would be the bowling.”

Yes, the bowling.

Oh I admitted I loved the many hundreds of hockey games I watched in New Glasgow, Stellarton and Pictou — from the APC league to the final years of the Rangers. How I loved the baseball — from the H&D league to the Twilight League. And the great senior and junior softball, as well as the boxing.

But it’s the bowling I’ve truly missed.

I think it’s because, rather than watching others, I was the one competing. Knocking down candlepins became a passion.

I actually remember the first time I climbed the long staircase to the Vee-Eight Lanes above the Ford dealership downtown. That long-time bowling capital of Pictou County.

I still recall opening the door and walking into a smoke-filled atmosphere. The cigarette smoke was so thick I couldn’t see the bowlers tossing the balls. Back then you could smoke just about anywhere. I never had a cigarette in my life, yet that smoke at the Vee-Eight didn’t bother me a bit.

I watched the action that evening and a few other times. It was the old Industrial League where competition was intense. The periodic shouts of delight from successful bowlers was the only thing that drowned out the sound of the flying pins.

It was a different atmosphere from the rinks and ball fields where I spent so much of my time.

Not long after those initial visits, I got a phone call. One of the teams was short a bowler and I was asked if I would like to fill in. I said yes. Almost immediately I fell in love with the sport. I was soon bowling two or three times a week. That went on for the next couple winters.

Then came the big change in New Glasgow. The new Heather Lanes opened over on the west side and the legendary Vee-Eight Lanes soon closed.

I practically moved into the new location.

For the next 10 years, I bowled and bowled and bowled. In four and five leagues a week. In so-called money games where nickles and dimes were the big winnings. Many nights, after the doors were locked, we bowled into the early hours of the morning. I participated in men’s leagues. In mixed leagues. In one-on-one matches with anyone wanting a game.

Then came the bowling marathon in 1963 in which four of us — Don (Shadow) MacMillan, Paul McMullen, Phil Carpenter and myself – took to the lanes on a Monday morning. By the early hours of the next morning, three of us had set world records.

Shadow, the best bowler of the group, set a new mark of 108.2 average over 115 strings. Phil went one string better, with a 96.0 average. I finished with 140 strings and a 97.4 average, bowling for 16 hours and 20 minutes and establishing a world record pinfall of 13,645. Paul bowled on for another two hours to reach 142 strings, finishing with an 89.4 average in 18 hours and 40 minutes.

You don’t forget events like that.

Yes, I was at the Heather most of the time, except when I was out covering news and sports stories, eating and sleeping.

I had police and fire department contacts phoning me there if they couldn’t reach me at home. No cellphones in those days.

Fraser Matheson was the manager, Jimmy Morrison his assistant. Oh how many hundreds of hours I spent sitting on stools at the lunch counter, having a coffee or a snack, and just talking and talking. In those days, Tim Horton was a Maple Leaf, not a coffee shop.

Our generation was told we’d never forget where we were when we learned that President Kennedy was shot. Me? I was chatting with Jimmy at the lunch counter.

Above all, I’ve cherished the great friendships that were made at the Heather. Sadly, after all this time, many of those friends are gone.

In April 1969, Jane and I made our move to Metro.

At first, I worked evenings in The Chronicle Herald newsroom, as provincial editor, news editor and editorial page editor. When I became sports editor and columnist, I was attending events just about every night and every weekend. With three children, most of my personal time was spent at their hockey, ringette, golf, baseball, soccer. Well, you get the idea.

There was no time for bowling.

Eventually — years later — I was in a bowling alley in Dartmouth when one of the boy’s hockey teams was having a a bowling party.

Yes, I tried bowling that evening and — ouch — how time had taken its toll. I could hardly go through my old delivery style and wound up with what would have been a great golf score.

I never bowled again.