|Writing.com – Hard-Earned Gas Money In 1953, And A Wish Granted
A true story of an experience working a job while in high school, and an answered prayer and wish when things got tough.
“OW!” I yelled as I pulled back my hand and examined my smashed finger.
“Just suck it up and keep working. If it swells up, it should help your grip on the pins!” My high school friend in the alley next to me had zero sympathy for my injury. “Just keep repeating to yourself: ‘tonight we get the big bucks’!”
Bill and I had been hired as bowling alley pin boys. Automatic pin setting machines were still expensive and clumsy devices that would not really get popular for a few years.
It was hard and somewhat hazardous work. A flying bowling pin could do some damage to a leg that was a little slow getting out of the way.
We pin-setters had to be ever alert when we were crouched in the well behind the pins at the end of the bowling lane. While we could view our bowler, and knew when he released the ball, it was impossible to predict which way the pins would fly. We jumped up on the ledge behind the well; raised our legs out of harms way (hopefully), and got ready to grab the pins for reinsertion into their holders.
“Whose idea was this?” I hollered over the din to my friend. Bill was six inches taller, and his hands were much bigger than mine. He had less difficulty grabbing two pins in each hand, and slinging them up into the pin slots on the drop down pin setter.
“Hey, stop complaining, this bowling tournament is bringing in the big tippers.” If the bowler in your lane appreciated the hustle of his pin setter, they would sometimes roll up a couple of one dollar bills and stick them in a ball finger hole. They then would roll the ball down the alley so we could snatch the tip. “We need the extra money,” Bill continued. Gas prices have gone up to 23 cents a gallon, and we will need it for our trip up to the lake next week.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered. The few extra dollars we would earn could provide gas money that would allow me to keep my 1940 dodge coupe running for a few weeks. I could still hear my Dad and our neighbor talking about the crooked gas companies that were ripping us off. The neighbor was fond of saying, “Those gas company folks should be taken behind the barn and shot.”
Pin setting was a rough job, involving constant bending and lifting in a confined, noisy space. The pin boy had to move fast so as not to delay the bowlers, and jeopardize a good tip. We were paid barely a minimum wage, but a good league tournament night could land us some good tips. I did try to suck up the pain of my throbbing finger. I felt a bad headache coming on, and it must have shown on my face.
Bill looked over and said, “You’re not getting one of those migraine headaches again are you? Hit the light switch for relief, and take a break.” Each well behind the bowling lane had a switch that would turn on a light that would summon help if needed.
“Naw, I don’t want to miss this bowler. He’s running up a good score, and is a good tipper. I’ll stick it out for awhile longer.” I could feel the migraine begin to pound behind my eyes. The bright lights now were intensifying the pain. I began to get nauseous. It was a typical side effect of a bad migraine. If I got one while in school, I would often be excused. I would pedal my bike home as fast as I could go. Mom would darken my bedroom; prepare a bowl of ice water, and soak a wash cloth so I could cover my eyes. If I could go to sleep for even a half hour, the blinding pain would subside some.
Tonight, behind bowling lane number five, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. The ball crashed into the pins. “Crap,” I said to myself…..a strike. I struggled to pick up the pins and managed to return the ball. I got all ten pins back into their holders, and then disaster struck. My stomach began to reject our earlier dinner of a hamburger, French fries, and coke. I began to see bright spots, and was just able to do a full turn, and barf in the corner of my pin-setting well.
Bill looked over, and said “Aw jeeez.” He jumped over the divider; pushed me out of the way, and hit the ‘trouble switch.’ I climbed out of the well onto the walking shelf that ran the length of the alley behind the bowling lanes. The assistant manager of ‘Bowl-A-Rama’ hustled down the walk way. He bent over my stooped form to see what was wrong.
“He’s sick right now with a bad migraine headache,” Bill explained to the guy. The assistant manager pulled out a walkie-talkie, and called in for another pin boy.
“Don’t sweat it right now. I’m Ted, and I have a couch in my office. You can lie down for a time until you’re feeling better.”
The assistant manager helped me stand up, and we walked to the side wall of alley number one. He opened the small door, and we both walked parallel to alley one up to the lobby and his office. I felt very embarrassed, and could not look anyone in the eye. I looked over and my bowlers were getting set up with the new pin boy. One of the bowlers was waving, but I could not focus my eyes to tell which one.
“I can get you some aspirin if you want,” said the assistant manager. “Lie down on the couch right here.”
“Thanks, but the aspirin would just make my stomach turn over again. Can I get a bowl of ice with a wash cloth please?” Ted took off toward the kitchen in back of the bar. A minute later I was soaking a rag in the ice water.
Ted sat down in a desk side chair and said, “One of your bowlers is asking about you. He said you did a great job. I gave him your name, and told him you got sick to your stomach, and joked that it might have been our hamburger that made you puke. Oh, and he gave me this two dollars. He said it was his treat to dinner if you felt like eating.”
“I don’t think I’ll be eating anything soon,” I said as I pressed the ice cold rag to my eyes. These headaches are bad, so I won’t be able to set pins anymore tonight. I’m sorry Ted.”
Ted stood up and said, “Well we don’t want you to worry about it. These things happen. Your friend will be off of his lane after this current match. He said he could drive you home.”
I must have slept for almost thirty minutes. I was sitting on the edge of Ted’s couch feeling a little better. I was thirsty and was sucking on an ice cube when the office door opened. Bill took one look at me and said, “You look like hell. Hey the guy you were setting for gave me this envelope, and told me to give it to you.”
I opened the envelope, and took out a piece of notepaper. My bowler had written a note. “Terry, hope your feeling better. You caddied for me once last year at the golf club. I had a terrible round, and my shots had you running from hazard to hazard. Please accept this well-earned tip.” Paper-clipped to the note were two twenty dollar bills. I handed one of the twenties to Bill.
“Thanks for the rescue,” I said. “This should keep us in gas for awhile.”
Ted had been sitting quietly behind his desk. I said, “Can you get me the bowler’s name and address? I want to send him a thank you note.” If Mom and Dad found out about this incident, and I had not sent a thank you card, I would have to sit through another full lecture about 'Proper Manners.'
I thanked Ted again, and Bill and I headed out the door. He said, “Let’s get something to eat, I’m starved.”
Bill and I sat at the noisy bowling alley refreshment counter. The cacophony of balls crashing in the background was starting to ignite my migraine again. I was feeling really down. I knew I just could not come back to this job. I really needed a job so I could make the last payment on my car to my folks. Mom and Dad had to sign for the purchase of my used 1940 Dodge Coupe. I made them a promise to work hard to pay for the car. I had heard once that if you wished or prayed hard enough, a wish just might come true. I closed my eyes as I sat at the counter with the large untouched Cherry Coke in front of me. Bill’s hamburger was beginning to make me a little sick. “Dear God, please help me find another job.”
I sipped the Coke and thought about the wish and prayer. I did go to church, but did not know if this was good enough.
I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned to find Ted smiling at me. “Terry, I want you to meet someone. This is Pete, your bowler. He says he wants to talk to you.”
I almost fell off the counter stool. I was finding it hard to speak as I shook Pete’s hand. “Pete thanks for the great tip. I am sorry I couldn’t finish your tournament.”
Pete was shaking his head sideways. "That’s really not important Terry. Do you remember when you caddied for me at the club?”
I nodded and said, “Yes I do, and you tipped me well that round.”
“Well you did a great job for me, and I knew I was a difficult golfer for any caddy. You were very patient with me, and actually gave me a few helpful hints about playing the course. If you’re still available as a caddy for the weekends, I want to introduce you to a golfing friend. He is a PGA player, and will be playing this weekend. Can you be at the club by 9:00 a.m. on Saturday?”
“I can be there,” I replied.
I parked my bike outside the caddy shack on the cold Saturday morning. I went up to the Caddy Master’s window and asked if anyone had asked for me. “Yes Terry. A guy named Pete asked that you walk around to the back of the coffee shop when you got here.”
I got a few cheers from my fellow caddies, and walked around to the patio next to the coffee shop. Caddies were strictly forbidden for being anywhere close to this area. Pete was sitting at a table having coffee with two men, and an elderly woman. “Hello terry, thanks for showing up.” Pete stood and extended his hand to the guy sitting next to him. “Please meet Mr. Ken Venturi and his mother.”
I knew I was staring with my mouth open at the golfer who had just won the U.S. Open Championship. I stumbled and bumped the empty chair in front of me. I remember extending my hand stuttering a ‘pleased to meet you’ mumble.
“I understand you are a good caddy Terry, and could use the work. My mother, Mrs. Venturi, plays every Saturday morning with a few friends. She could definitely us a good caddy. Isn’t that right Mom?”
Mrs. Venturi was standing, and reached out both of her hands taking my still extended arm. "Would you like to caddy for me Terry?”
I stuck my hands in my front pockets, and stammerd a little. “Yes, yes I would.”
“Good she said. My tee off time is 10:00 this morning and every Saturday morning. If you can give me your telephone number, I will be able to call you if there is a schedule problem.”
“I will be there,” I replied.
Pete stepped forward and put his arm around my shoulder. “I hope this works out for you Terry.”
My mind was racing a little, and I quickly thought about my wish and prayer. Things were going to work out. I couldn’t wait to tell Bill, and of course, Mom and Dad.
I recalled the saying, Wish Upon a Falling star. I remembered my wish at the bowling alley. It was night time, but who knows, a star may have been falling in the dark sky outside.
I caddied regularly for Mrs. Venturi the rest of that year. Pete would sometimes call me to see how I was doing. I also carried his bag when he played golf at the club, and I was available.
I would, on occasion, also work some as a pin boy for about another year. Pin boys were a dying breed. All the up scale bowling alleys were installing the new fancy automatic pin setters.