By Charles Miess, Springville Times Guest Writer
I would never have done it on my own. I was raised in the country on an isolated dirt road, and didn’t feel comfortable enough in a big town like Springville to do something so daring. I would never have gone there if I hadn’t been pressured to do so. But I was young and shy and naive and unable to resist the charms of two young ladies. After all, the two girls had offered to buy me a drink, and that seemed infinitely better than waiting for the bus in the hot midday sun.
They led me past the imposing, yellow brick school building, and we climbed down an embankment that formed one side of an alley. An old wood frame hotel blocked the view from the prying eyes of the outside world. The alley ended at another building, low and sinister, secluded behind the hotel. A red neon sign in the window sporadically flickered Carling Black Label. It was dark inside and reeked of age and cigarette smoke. I felt a sense of wickedness about this place that made me both nervous and excited. I followed my companions to the bar and we ordered our drinks.
By coincidence, both of the girls with me were named Susan, and by their carefree manner, I was sure they had been here before. They drank and chatted with a worldliness that made me a little uneasy. I sat quietly between them and sipped my drink.
From the back room I heard the thud of a bowling ball hitting the hard maple floor. Then I felt the reverberation of the ball rolling down the alley, and finally the sharp melodious sound of pin crashing against pin. In my sheltered upbringing, I had never been to a bowling alley before. I had always thought of them as sinful and unrespectable. I wondered what kind of people would spend their day in a place like this.
Eventually, a warm glow spread from my stomach throughout my body. I drained the last bit of liquid from around the ice cubes in the bottom of my glass. I was starting to relax and would have liked another drink, but we all had a bus to catch. We hurried out into the sunlight, climbed the embankment, and ran past the big brick school building to the bus stop. But we had missed the bus and there would be no more that day.
Our destination was not far, however. In fact, it was just within walking distance. But I was unfamiliar with this town and was confused by the crosshatch of streets and houses and places of business. The two Susans, though, knew the way and would accompany me. They even knew a few short cuts. I had no way of suspecting what their intentions were. Little did I know that they had more in store for me that day—many years ago.
Strike! My daughter, Katie, leaps high into the air and bounces around for a “high five” from each person in our group. It was beginner’s luck for sure, but a strike nonetheless. Linda, our neighbor, is up next. She is the only one with her own bowling ball and shoes—the rest of us are rank amateurs. We wouldn’t even know how to keep score if it were not for her, or for computerized scorekeeping. Linda swings and releases the ball with style. It rolls straight and slightly to the right of center. At the last moment it veers left—far to the left—and takes down no more than three pins. She struts back with authority and points her finger at Katie. “Now that’s what you have to do to get another turn,” she says with mock smugness.
Not long after, my wife is up and she turns to me for moral support, hoping to avoid another gutter ball. I smile at her and look around the place. It hasn’t changed all that much in the intervening years, but my impression of it has. What once seemed so wicked and shadowy now feels warm and friendly and a nice place to be with my family. The bar is in a different location than it was then, so I look to the corner where it used to be, and reminisce about the day I sat there with a pretty girl on each side. I remember the warm bubbly feeling in my stomach that day, as I sipped a carbonated cherry soda through a straw.
The old brick Academy Street School up the embankment next door was torn down years ago. I remember the school bus that took us to the cafeteria there every noon from the two-room annex—for first and second grade—up on Buffalo Street. This was the bowling alley that we had snuck to after lunch that day in 1948 and, to my horror, missed the bus back. I recall hiking to the annex that balmy afternoon with Susie Bates holding one of my hands and Susie Desjarlais, the other. I remember how we dreaded the wrath of our first grade teacher, Mrs. Rumsey.
Mrs. Rumsey had a well-deserved reputation as a strict disciplinarian. I’m sure that the punishment she meted out to us for going to this forbidden place was not pleasant. It’s funny though, I don’t remember the punishment. But I do remember what happened on our way back to the annex as if it were yesterday.
I lean my graying head against the venerable old wall of the Springville Lanes and close my eyes. And I can still feel those little wet kisses on each of my cheeks.
Epilogue, July 2015
Fifty-fifth class reunion breakfast at the Fireside Inn
I waited 67 years for a repeat performance. But, it was worth the wait. Thank you, Susie (Bates) Krezmien (pictured above.)
If only the other Susie were there too.