Alphabet: A History

Image by Lasse C via Flickr

No, not website hosting. People hosting.

Ever since we’ve been together, my spouse and I have really enjoyed having people visit or live with us. I mean we’ve really enjoyed it and it’s been one of the landmarks of our life together. We had a family who stayed with us for over five years, and we’ve also had houseguests who’ve stayed for a month or three. It just makes us happy, to have other people around. It broadens our lives and I think it makes us kinder, friendlier people. When it’s “just us,” we tend to get grumpier and more impatient. But we put on our company selves for company, and the nice stuff leaks back into the family.

Right now our elder daughter is being hosted by a family in Costa Rica. They are housing her and feeding her and taking care of her. I have lived with many a host family while studying Spanish in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and they have all been wonderful to us. Now it’s her turn to go out there.

So when we got an email this week asking our crew team if people could host the US National Rowing team (that’s the OLYMPIC rowing team!), I got so excited. A new guest! An Olympic rower! Are you KIDDING? We signed up right away.

Our new guest is six foot eight and a wonderful guy. And he won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics. How cool is that?!?  He’s staying until January.

I’ve seen people grousing about having houseguests, especially around the holidays, but I really kind of love them. Of course it helps to have extra room to put them in. It might be different if I was tripping over them every five minutes. But for us, it gets kinda lonely when it’s “just us.”

I’ve decided to join in on Alphabet: A History, inspired by Christine  and some of her writing friends. Christine is going through the alphabet in reverse order, and others are going A to Z, but I’ve decided to do it randomly (mostly because I wanted to write about Bowling today, and didn’t have anything burning to say about an A. Oh wait. Maybe I do. A is for Anniversary. Do I really want to write about that? Today? Um, no. I don’t.) until all the letters are used up. This could take a while.

So. Back to bowling. Bowling has been a huge part of my family life ever since I can remember. My mother was in a Japanese-American bowling league in New York city, since she was a young adult in the 1940s. She and her friends would go together to a place “under the bridge” – the George Washington Bridge, that is. They loved bowling. A few years ago the Japanese American United Museum did a special exhibit about sports in the JA community, and bowling had a surprisingly large presence there. Who knew?

photo credit: Japanese American National Museum collection

My mom told me that after bowling, she and her friends would go out to dinner at this little Chinese restaurant. And that after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the restaurant had put up this big sign, “We are Chinese.” (ie., not Japanese) and suddenly this place which had been a safe, delicious place to hang out, felt like it had turned their backs on them, in order to protect themselves. What a complicated world we live in (hmmm, maybe I *am* writing about Anniversary after all…)

Back to bowling. When I was little, I’d go with my parents and uncles and aunt and godmother to their bowling night. Once when I was about four, I decided to bring my mother’s ball to her and I dropped it on my foot. Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiii! It wasn’t broken, but my toenail fell off and for the next 15 or so years, it grew back split down the middle, like it was forked. It didn’t grow in whole, without the crack, until I was well in college.

My mother has been going bowling every Friday morning for probably the last five years. It’s where all the local Japanese nisei go, some informally and some in leagues. It’s been a constant and stable part of her weekly schedule, something she looks forward to and counts on. Every Friday at dinner, we ask, “How was bowling?” and she always says, “Eh.” And then I get somewhat agitated (because I am deeply invested in her having a good time) and I say, “Not your SCORE. Did you have a good TIME?” and then she says, “Oh yeah. I always have a good time.” We go through this dialogue every single week.

Speaking of score, though, last week she reported that she bowled a 183. She was pretty satisfied with that. Man! She’s 88 years old! (did I mention that??)

This past Friday I had a morning appointment that was just a few blocks away from the bowling alley. I decided to go over and see how things were going, you know, checking up a little. I got there just as she was taking her turn. She has this very particular way of squaring her feet, and bringing the (15 pound!!!!!!) ball up to her chest, and then very gracefully swinging it on down the lane. Body memory, I guess. Some things you just never forget.

She looked great. Then she turned around and sat down with her buddies and I went up to her. “What are you doing here?” She looked alarmed. Which is probably how one of my daughters would react if i just showed up when she was hanging out with her friends, say, on Telegraph Avenue. She introduced me around. One of the guys said to me, “She’s got a good spirit.” I sort of beamed. My mommy has a good spirit!

It made me feel like I was looking through the fence or the window and watching my children play in preschool. Looking to see if they were comfortable, and having a good time, and playing well with others, all that. My mother doesn’t share a lot about her bowling mornings and I was so happy to see that she was relaxed, and joking around, and yes, HAVING FUN. It looked so much more than “Eh.”

I think part of her alarm at seeing me was that she was worried I was there to pick her up early. And that she’d miss her favorite part of Friday: going out to lunch with the gang. Where were they going? “A place called Yummy’s,” she said. “Chinese food.”

Perfect. Right?

Joining 80,000 wordsHeather’s Abecedary and Fog City Writer in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going in random order until all the letters are used up. It’s called Alphabet: A History. Join us?