Having contracted a cold that our three kids had recently been battling, I felt even less enthusiastic than usual this Thanksgiving about an annual touch football game my husband had been playing in for more than 20 years.
This Turkey Day match typically stretched through the morning at the fields of a local high school and into the dimly lit afternoon at a Haverford Township bar — one that a Yahoo reviewer characterized as “a total dump full of no-accounts and drunks” — a dive where Jeff and his middle-aged buddies liked to swill cheap beer and recount the day’s highlights.
This year, I was afraid that my husband might be named the “Schwantago” for a third time, a dubious honor awarded to the least valuable player and accompanied by a Pepto-Bismol pink toilet seat to adorn the recipient’s mantle for the next 12 months. Plus, I was exhausted.
So Jeff agreed to hang up his cleats, at least for now. And instead of heading out to the chilly turf, we met some friends at Ardmore’s Wynnewood Lanes to begin what I hoped might become a new kind of Turkey Bowl tradition for our family.
I started to question my judgment, however, at about 5 a.m. Thanksgiving morning when our 4-year-old barged into our bedroom to tell me her throat hurt. I read Jane books until she fell back to sleep. Then I sat in our cold kitchen, soothing my own sore throat with tea and wondering how I was going to get turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes on the table, all hot at the same time, later that afternoon.
Popping two extra strength Tylenols, I hoped that our upcoming trip to Wynnewood Lanes, despite its sticky outer space-themed carpet and stale pizza stench, would buoy my spirits. And my optimism mounted as we climbed the frigid staircase into the bowling alley from the subterranean garage and heard Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” one of my husband’s favorite songs, piping over the sound system.
“How long have they been coming here on Thanksgiving?” I asked the potbellied proprietor, pointing to several lanes teeming with bowlers.
These motley revelers held Solo cups and hoagies and grooved to their own hired DJ’s jams in between strikes.
“Oh, at least 20 years,” the manager said as he handed us shoes — one of my pair missing its tongue —and directed us to the opposite side of the room.
Soon joined by two more families, bringing our total to eight kids ranging in age from under 2 to 7, we started raising our own kind of ruckus.
Squabbles erupted over a Mickey Mouse ball. The 22-month-old in our group guarded it with her thin arms in between frames. My husband and I and the other parents darted amongst the racks, offering various alternatives to our bowlers in an attempt to keep the Thanksgiving peace.
“How about an orange ball?” I asked Jane. “Or a pink one? Here’s pink!”
In the meantime, another diminutive member of our crew ducked into the next lane and stuffed a pumpkin muffin from a neighboring family’s tray into his mouth.
“It’s totally fine,” the mother responded, full of Thanksgiving spirit and the hot toddies I had jealously watched her consume.
She said that her group had been bowling here on Turkey Day ever since she was young. But before I could hear the rest of her story, my 7-year-old son interrupted to complain about his twin sister’s spares.
“Georgia’s cheering too much!” Griffin lamented.
“You gotta roll with it, bud,” I said. “Get it?”
My son, however, grasped neither my lame joke nor its message. And sensing a general downturn in the mood, I decided to whip out a handful of prize receipts a teenager had given me before her family left to feast.
But try as I might, I couldn’t get the outdated toy machine to suck in the crumpled tickets and regurgitate its cheap trinkets into the claws of our now howling brood. So I gave my husband the “giddyup” signal and started grabbing coats and hats.
“Come again next Thanksgiving!” the proprietor called after us as we trudged back to the minivan.
Once inside, I Purelled our kids’ hands and told them to change their socks as soon as we reached the house.
“I didn’t think bowling was supposed to be so stressful,” my husband said.
“Neither did I,” I agreed, deciding that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all if Jeff came home a little drunk and late next Thanksgiving, lugging a pink toilet seat.