Wednesday, October 06, 2004

I got a new bowling ball Sunday

Well, new to me.

You see, I've joined a bowling league and I'm learning to bowl. That is really bowl. I bowled during my time in the Air Guard, but then bowling was a pseudonym for "let's all get together and drink beer." I once saw a t-shirt that sums up this type of bowling perfectly:

I belong to a drinking team with a bowling problem...
And that pretty much summed it up. Especially at Chanute AFB, where warming up to 45 degrees made for a summer day! But back to the point.

You see, I already had a bowling ball. I bought one my first week in the league, thanks to a special deal where you got a ball, a bag and a pair of bowling shoes for a little more than a hundred bucks.

The ball is a good deal because those lane balls that are sitting out for anyone to use are coated in plastic and don't have the special gizmos in the core that keep the ball rolling straight when you throw it slow and hook it into the strike zone when you throw it fast. (At least that's what the guy who sold me the set claimed.)

The shoes were just to keep from having to trust that the shoes I rented from the lane had actually been cleaned since the last guy threw up on them. And they're cool looking - they look like tennis shoes and not something Krusty the Klown would be wearing when he jumps out of a tiny car.

The bag was just to have something to get everything out of the pro-shop and into my car. But I lucked out there too, and they were out of their standard-issue, cheap plastic bags and I got a "Hammer" bag. Which, apparently, is good deal. At least to the other members of my league who scratch their heads and ask me where I got it from.

But back to the point - last Sunday I got another bowling ball from my father-in-law. It was one of his old-ones; one he didn't use anymore. He was an ace bowler in his time and I wish he was still up to joining me on our Thursday night league games. Don't get me wrong, it's not that he's old or feeble. It's just that he's filled his retirement doing things he really enjoys.

More power to him. We should all be so lucky.

But time is passing. The man I've grown to love as a father is getting older. And it's hard for me to come to this realization.

You have to understand - I never had a strong male role model as a kid. My actual father was felon who spent more time in prison than he did with his kids. My step-father (who I also love and miss) unfortunately came into my life when I sixteen years old and pretty much used to finding my own way through life.

My Mom did her best, but with Tim out of the picture, I became the de facto "man of the house." When Mom came down with spinal meningitis and had to be hospitalized, I took care of my other four brothers until my grandparents could drive down to stay with us, weeks later. I was 13 years old and cooked the meals, got them (and me) to school (fortunately they were within walking distance), and dealt with the bills that showed up in the mailbox as much as I could. Which mostly meant writing barely legible letters explaining the situation and asking for patience.

Before you start singing Don't Weep for Me, Argentina, understand that I don't feel like I was treat unfairly - it was just life and you have to play with the cards you're dealt. I did, we did, and we survived. It's just the way it was.

When, years later I got interested in Mary, my wife, her family was understandably concerned. I wasn't rich, Italian or Catholic - criteria any old style Italian family wants for their only daughter. But despite my short comings Mary loved me and I still love her. For the record, the feeling is mutual.

But, wobbling back to the point, Frank never felt that way - or at least he never expressed it to me. Frank always treated me like a son, a young man he needed to help make the transition from a savage into a civilized young-man.

It started when Mary and I bought a house before we were married (Mary lived with her parents and went to college while I worked as a K-9 Handler for the Colton Police Department.) We decided we needed a laundry room and the house didn't have one. Frank helped me convert a porch into a room and, in addition to building and stuccoing the walls, we had to run water, gas pipes, and electrical into the new room.

It was a great experience. I'd never had anyone teach me how to use tools! We actually built things! When the day was over, we had something to show for our labor. Their were many other such days. We put together barbecues, worked on cars, hung ceiling fans, fixed plumbing and eventually I followed him into the Air National Guard. After deciding that a cop's life wasn't for me, I needed a career and he was a role-model. I joined the Guard and learned the discipline it takes to be a veteran.

This all probably sounds pretty silly. Not to me. Frank took me under his wing when anyone else would have ditched me. So giving me his bowling ball meant a lot to me.

Frank was, and is, always there for me. The reason I was there last Sunday was to help fix the garage door. He drove home late Saturday night and wasn't able to get the car in exactly right. I was able to use what he taught me to bring the right tools and fix the door. It was a bitter-sweet moment. He taught me and now I'm helping him. Then he followed it up by giving me a gift. He's been giving me gifts for years. It was, nearly, the first time I was able to give one back - helping him fix some minor like a door.

There comes a time when your kids catch up to you. You start out taking care of them and then, if you've done your job right, they end up taking care of you. I'm feeling the beginning of that cycle and, frankly, I don't want to see it come.

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