Nancy Roman

The Bowling Alley Revelation


How My Sister’s Embarrassing Mishap Led Me To My Passion


This incident occurred about 50 years ago. So I am not saying that I remember it all accurately. And although I could ask my sister – since it is her incident, not mine – I really don’t want her to screw up my memories with facts.

Because, after all, it is the way I perceived it then and the way I remember it now that makes it important to me.

So I don’t care whether all the details are 100% correct. And if you are wondering whether any of this is exaggerated… well, holy crap, I am a writer! Of course, it is exaggerated.

But probably not much.

It was a small, but crazy, event, and I don’t have to embellish it very much to bring out the crazy.

So here goes:

About 50 years ago, my sister had a weird accident.

She was commuting to college because she liked living at home. She liked my mother and father and my other sister and my brother, and even inexplicably liked me too, a brooding high-schooler.

Her college required her to take a phys-ed course. This was back in the war-protesting, hippie days, and no one wanted to take phys-ed. But it was a requirement, and so she signed up for the least offensive course she could find –  Bowling.

Once a week, she went to a bowling alley near campus and bowled for an hour with her other classmates. How the school thought Bowling would advance her higher education or prepare her for adulthood, I do not know. Perhaps the math skills portion of life. Or the cheerful wearing of someone else’s shoes.

The bowling alley was very old. She described it to me once as “dark and sticky”. So although I never went there, I had a very distinct idea of the place.

Not all the equipment worked well. And on the day of the “incident”, it was the ball return machine that was being cantankerous. It was really slow and the bowlers would have to wait so long to get their balls back that they were bowling with two balls to speed things up a bit. And there did not seem to be quite enough power to spit the ball out of the return. And so the bowling ball would sort of just sit inside the edge of the bowling ball cave.



The solution was to just kind of stick your hand in there and coax that sucker out.

So that’s how the kids bowled that day – alternating between two balls and prying out reluctant balls from the return machine.

And at some point, my sister put her fingers into the top of the ball return to pull a ball out exactly when another ball came up the return and smacked the first ball. And jammed her fingers between the machine and the ball. And she was painfully (but not too dangerously) stuck. Everyone tried to get her fingers out. They tried pushing the ball back into the hole – but it was completely immovable. They pulled at her fingers and pushed at the ball, but it just got tighter and tighter.

The bowling alley manager called the fire department, who might have been able to put out a fire or save a cat stuck in a tree, but who could not get my sister’s fingers out of the ball machine.

Someone got my sister a chair. In the meantime, her fingers were starting to swell, which hurt and only made matters worse as far as how tightly they and the ball were wedged.

The only thing they could do was take the machine apart. But they could not power off the ball return. They had to shut off the power to the whole building. Everyone had to stop bowling. Leagues went home.

And so the utility company shut off the power and the bowling alley maintenance guy took the machine apart.

And my sister came home with fingers as big and red as Polish sausages.

My mother was distraught. She’s a nurse and she realized how close my sister had come to losing her fingers. But nothing was broken – only very badly bruised. And once my sister began to recover (or perhaps a little before, since we are a cruelly sardonic family), we could not stop howling over the sheer hilarious insanity of the whole incident.

But here’s the thing:

I adored my sister. (Still do.) And I wanted to be like her in every way. I copied her shamelessly as a kid. Dressing like her and taking up her hobbies. Tagging along. (And by the way, she generously let me.)

But I imagine that most people would be thinking, “I’m so glad that wasn’t me!”, and guessing that this would have been the day when I stopped envying my sister.

But you’d be wrong.

Because the thing I remember most about that day, half a century ago, was that I was JEALOUS.

Yes, I was jealous of my sister’s humiliating idiotic bowling alley incident. Jealous of her sitting in a chair with her fingers stuck in the machine, with the fire truck in the parking lot and the utility company shutting down the power. I kind of hoped they had to shut down the whole city.

And WHY was I jealous?

Because it was SUCH A GOOD STORY!

And that was my first inkling that I wanted to be a writer.






  1. Wow! Now I understand why you write. I had a similar incident in third grade when I got my finger stuck in a hole inside my wooden desk. Fortunately it only took a janitor with some oil to free my trapped appendage, but it was embarrassing. I had forgotten all about that until I read your story. Now I feel embarrassed again.


    • We all have incidents like that… usually unimportant ones that just become good stories. I remember pushing on a staircase door in high school – a glass door. But there was no glass and my arm went through and my armpit was sore for 2 weeks!


  2. It’s definitely easier to write when you have an “interesting” family!


    • True! I only wish my family had a few more scandals!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’d kill for a good scandal in the family. Oops. My mother just rolled over in her grave!


  3. I truly hope you plan to work that story into one of your future novels – its just way too good not to!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny you should say that! I am working on a book right now about being in high school in 1968, and a version of this story is in the book!!!!


      • Sounds like my kind of book (I was in high school in 1968, too!); can’t wait to read it.


        • Thanks – only about 25% into it… so maybe next year!


  4. Oh what a bloody good story

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, maybe bowling did prepare her for life as an adult! 💕


    • Well, she learned that embarrassing things happen – and you survive.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And to keep your hand out of the tunnel!


  6. Was this the oldest or middle sister? I can picture Claudia doing this but not Christine. Claudia the hysterical and Christine the stoic. But then again it was all unplanned. Love your stories Nancy and can’t wait to read about High School in 1968, Sophomore/Junior year for me.


  7. I totally understand the statement Not wanting to screw up memory with facts! Love it


    • Although it sounds like a joke, I really believe that our memories – with all their imperfections – should not be corrected. They are too sweet and have too much meaning the way they are.


  8. This reminds me of a famous story by Stuart Mclean called The Blood Pressure Chair. It makes me smile just to think about it. You can listen to it online.


  9. Great story! Two comments: (1) I too took bowling in college during the same era–on a Friday afternoon, even! (I was, still am, a terrible bowler.) (2) I tell the story of our arrival in the United States on a ship in 1953 this way: we sailed into New York Harbor at 3 a.m. and the Statue of Liberty was not illuminated, only a silhouette in the harbor. It was raining. My sister insists it wasn’t raining, but it was foggy. Who knows? Maybe I should google the weather for that date, but do I really want to mess up my own memories of such a memorable event?


  10. Hey I am so inspired by you will u mind checking my site please


  11. Diane

    Only a good writer could write about an injury and have it be Funny!


  12. Ray G

    Does this true story have anything to do with her (Claudia) subsequently being able to play almost any instrument, well?


    • She could always play any musical instrument – magnificently too.


  13. love this story!


  14. Tell me why people don’t grasp the concept of sisters remembering things differently? Any giving incident in our growing up lives tends to have at least four different versions. All remembered from the point of view of the child we were then. Like you, I really don’t want any of them screwing up my memories with facts.


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