Though I’m well into my 67th year of writing for newspapers, I’ve always preserved time for a hobby.
Nowadays — and for the past 20 years — fantasy hockey and baseball leagues have engulfed my enthusiasm in my spare time. Playing general manager, making draft picks and proposing trades with friendly and not-so-friendly foes, turns a love for sports into a rather serious, personal activity.
I’ve had two franchises — Maple Leafs Forever in hockey, Forever the Jays in baseball.
Notwithstanding the fact I’ve never finished in first place in either sport, I keep going back for more, every winter, every summer. It’s addictive.
Back in my Pictou County days, however, there was something very different to occupy my free time — bowling.
In the 1950s and ’60s, there were no computers, no iPads, no cellphones on which to bet a few bucks and pretend to be a general manager competing against opponents with similar goals.
Back then, we had something else.
I was in my mid-teens when the bug bit me worse than an annoying wasp on a hot summer afternoon.
It was an era when candlepin bowling was at its peak and one of the hottest regions was the Maritimes and down into New England.
I fell in love with the sport.
It was at the old Vee-Eight Lanes in New Glasgow’s downtown, above the Ford dealership across the street from the Norfolk Hotel.
It still seems like only yesterday when we climbed the long staircase to the noisy, smoke-filled environment of those old lanes. But once involved, it was a place where you had to be — evening after evening.
Whether you were there to bowl, or just sit around and chat with other sports-loving guys and gals, it was a great place to be.
Remember, there were no Tim Hortons in those times.
It was there, in that familiar place, that I learned the game, began competing in leagues, began knowing the secrets to knocking down wooden pins.
It was there that I got to know the local keglers, veterans like Dave Grant, Roy Oliver, Jimmy Morrison, Dempie Murray, Gibby Hiscott and Ike Uhren; women like Gladdie Morrison, Etta Forrestall, Rita MacDonald, Janet Watters, Rie Cameron, Alva Roy and Barb MacDougall.
A few years after I got my baptism in the pin-spilling activities, the bowling scene shifted to the west side.
The modern Heather Lanes opened on Lavinia Street and, very quickly, it became my second home. I was working for the Chronicle Herald in the county and, I spent so much time at the bowling mecca that fire departments, police and other news contacts knew where to find me when something newsworthy was happening.
It was there that I began bowling in the daytime, bowling in the evenings, even bowling after closing time. It was there, at the lunch counter, that I had the most interesting conversations you could find anywhere in town.
It was there, while chatting with Jimmy Morrison, that the first bulletin came over the radio that President Kennedy had been shot. It was there that we talked about the Maple Leafs winning Stanley Cup championships.
It was there that we enjoyed being alive.
I bowled in leagues almost every night of the week. I was one of the four participants in a bowling marathon in which we established world records.
Yes, it was home a five-minute drive from home.
So after all these years, what got me going — once again — on the sport that dominated my spare time?
Recently I came across a newspaper clipping — one small newspaper clipping — in my files.
The Charlie Stevens-written story from the Evening News had this headline: “Townsend-Watters Duo Scotch Doubles Winner.”
That obviously would raise questions now. Like, what are scotch doubles? What’s that got to do with candlepin bowling?
The best way to explain is probably this comment from the internet: “Scotch doubles is a unique format of bowling that is most often seen in small local tournaments. Each team has two bowlers. ‘Scotch’ means that you and your teammate play on the same scorecard under one name and alternate shots. Teammates alternate every single throw.”
When the event began at the Heather, I quickly signed up.
I was lucky to get Janet Watters as my teammate. She was a bowler from the Vee-Eight days, a really good one. She had a great personality, and was fun to be around. We got along great together.
In the first scotch doubles event of 1964 Janet and I combined for a 620 score to win. Just five pins behind were Jimmy Morrison and Etta Forrestall. Yes, competition was keen.
The Evening News was known for its great attention to bowling. Individual scores in local leagues were published regularly. Same with this new fad.
The names of the participants bring back happy memories.
The old clipping said, “The Townsend-Watters duo sparked their victory with a 125 string, the highest in the tournament. The Morrison-Forrestall twosome closed in on the winners in the fifth string but their comeback bid failed when they hit a slump midway through the finale.”
Remember that, Janet?
Finishing third was Dan David and Diane Carpenter, the winners the previous year. There were Bob Boehk and Vonnie White, Wayne Harris and Gladdie Morrison, Roy Oliver and Marilyn Peers, Art Pyke and Mary Bowles.
Rounding out the list were Barry Semple and Liz Hughes, Harry Colburn and Lois Colburn, Duggie MacPherson and Marj Ballantyne, Reg Myers and Marguerite Myers, Ralph Settles and Phyllis Young, Leo McCarron and Rita MacDonald, along with Earl Horne and Irene Horne.
Afterwards, Heather Lanes manager Fraser Matheson said he was pleased with the interest being shown in the newest bowling fad and he was looking forward to bigger entry lists in future.
My thoughts 57 years later?
I still smile when I think of the fun and the competitiveness that it created.