Friday, October 29, 2010

This Ancient Game of Bowls

Yesterday evening, after Jen and I had given Tyler and five diggers a bath, I left our home on 1 Lesley Avenue to walk to the old church hall at St. Oswald's with a neighbour of ours named David.

A bit younger than my own grandfather, David is a kind man who walks with a cane, hefts a big smile everywhere he goes, and says that his main rule for living is the Golden One: You see, Luke, I treat everyone the way I'd right liked to be treated, mate. That's all it is.

And in David's life—along with his wife, Jill, and their daughter Gemma, who live two doors down—the Golden rule is indeed alive and well. Already, they've taken delight in Tyler, bringing him toys, inviting him over to feed their bunnies, and dropping off other odds and ends (including a delicious teddy-bear shaped cake for Tyler's birthday last weekend).

A lot of guys in my age group go out drinking at the pubs. But somehow, getting a tall pint (or two, or three) just never really feels like my cup of tea, so to speak. The loud noise, the effects on the wallet (thinking constantly, is this really a good use of money?), and the general sense that time might be better spent is usually triggered.

So it was that when David invited me to join the Fulford Bowls Club, I jumped at the prospect.

The church hall at St. Oswald's is much like many church halls in America, I suspect: decor from the 1970's, a bit of a musty smell, and its walls seem to wear the memories of a thousand different games and activities played by people of a hundred different ages.

Last night, after our ten minute walk to the hall from our homes, David and I walked in to find four men and four women already intent on their game of the bowls. I immediately noticed that "crown of wisdom" each soul there wore. Their white hair seemed more a promise of good stories and lives well lived than a disappointment. I felt, immediately, a sense that this would be a great Thursday night activity.

For two pounds, we bowled for two hours. Halfway through, we stop for tea and biscuits (I ate two of each)—and stories. I spoke with Ken, once a British soldier who was at Normandy and met many of the 101st Airborn from America.

I met Henry, whose wife passed on 12 years prior, but whose smile remained.

I met Arthur, a man of few words who—one could easily tell—was the Keeper of the Bowl, so to speak. His was the duty to setup, ensure accuracy, and lend advice to the American newcomer to their game.

The object of Bowls is to get three of your large balls (each containing a bias, or heavy weight on one side) as close to a small ball (the jack) as possible. The jack is on one end of the long green mat, and you and the others gentlemen stand on another end and pitch balls and remark over one another's technique.

And I loved it.

I love it.

Walking home with David, I asked how long he had been coming to bowl at the church hall. "Oh, about 15 years, I'd say." Then, he looked at me out of the corner of his eye. "You like it, then, ey?"

"I love it," I replied.

"He smiled his massive smile and said, "You took to it like a duck to water."

And it was everything in me to not say, "The bowling was a hoot, but you and the others were what really made the night—your stories, your wisdom."

Even though we only lived two doors down, like a kind grandfather does, he watched and waited while I got inside our little home, excited to have found a new social group to hang with every Thursday night—even if they are twice (or three times) my age.