Dad couldn’t hunt, but he could bowlLike every red-blooded American boy who ever whittled a sharpened stick using a blue Boy Scout knife, I grew up idolizing my dad.
By: Darrell Pendergrass, Superior Telegram
Like every red-blooded American boy who ever whittled a sharpened stick using a blue Boy Scout knife, I grew up idolizing my dad.
It didn’t matter to me that amongst his outdoor friends Dad caught the least amount of fish on every trip out, that he never got the biggest buck on the hunt – if he got a buck at all – or that he drove an orange Volkswagen Super Beatle around Fairbanks when everybody else drove pickups and Jeeps. I loved him despite the fact he pretty much bungled his way through the wilds of wherever it was we were living. I loved him unconditionally.
I remember one time he came home on a late summer’s afternoon when we lived in Alaska with yet another story of outdoor misadventure. He and a friend of his had been canoeing down a sluggish river north of town and had come upon a beaver dam; in the course of struggling to get their canoe and their gear over the log jam Dad haphazardly stepped on a nest of bees. Back at home he tended to his wounds.
“Me and Bob got stung a few times, sure – alright, a few gazillion times,” Dad said as Mom dabbed ointment over his red and swollen body. “But we got 10 grayling. Well, Bob got nine and I got one. But mine was a dandy, nearly as big as Bob’s.” Dad always looked for the best in life.
Besides being an outdoorsman Dad was also a bowler. But unlike his inability to do anything right once he stepped off the pavement he was proficient on the lanes. Of course, he practiced a lot at bowling and took part in several leagues with an average well over 200, so he was no slouch. In fact, I think some guys actually wanted to bowl with him, which can’t be said about going fishing and hunting.
Since I was Dad’s tag-along pal I spent a lot of weekend evenings in the winter hanging out at bowling alleys, mostly drinking too many fountain sodas and eating way too many French fries. I routinely fell asleep on mountains of winter jackets on top of multi-colored hard plastic benches while Dad bowled. I’m pretty sure I was a pack-a-day second-hand smoker for a while.
I never minded and never noticed anything out of the ordinary in my upbringing. I am an only-child and Dad was my best friend. He took me places that other kids didn’t get to go. It always made me feel special to be with him.
As I grew from a boy and into a man I followed in my dad’s footsteps in many ways. Today I too catch the least amount of fish and I mostly shoot small bucks – if I shoot any at all. I’m also a walking health hazard in the woods. I come by it naturally I guess.
I also learned to bowl.
During my sophomore year of college I lived at home in northeastern Minnesota and spent my weekends fishing for walleye in Canada, hunting deer near International Falls and pretty much hiking around the pines and aspen wherever I wanted. Dad went with me most of the time and we were never too successful in our endeavors. But we tried, and we laughed, and we smiled. Those were good times.
When winter finally came that year, and sub-zero temperatures set in along with about three feet of snow, it put a lid on our outdoor activities. Our interests naturally turned to bowling. We joined a league together in town when one of the ore mines near our place sponsored the team. Dad and I wore matching red shirts with black shoulder stripes every Wednesday and we both thought we looked pretty good heading out the door. We never knew what Mom was laughing at when we’d leave, but it sounded oddly the same as when she laughed at us when we went fishing.
Anyhow, eight or nine games into the season our team was somewhere above average in the standings and bowling fairly well. On this night in particular I had rolled a 205 and a 210 in the first two games with one left. I was on the way up. Dad foundered along with a 185 and a 170, way off his game. He was on the way down. But, always the optimist Dad didn’t let it get to him. He smiled, he joked and he laughed with our other teammates.
I’m going to beat you in the third game, I said to him as we stood over by the snack counter. After all, my game is on the upswing.
“Really?” Dad said smiling. “Wanna bet?”
The bet was this – whoever lost this last game was going to have to stand on the steps of the front door at our house the very next day and take off his shirt, while the winner stood on the roof above and shoveled three scoops of snow down on to the loser’s naked body. That was the typical sort of bet we did back then, nobody cared too much about money.
Let me say that I had never seen Dad bowl as well as he did in that last game. He was a man possessed. Determination furrowed his brow and he broke into a sweat. Dad picked up 7-10 splits, made incredible shots at angles that nobody else could have imagined, and he pretty much pulled the game of his life out of a hat. By the seventh frame the outcome was already decided, he rolled a 280 and I managed a 170.
At 5:30 in the afternoon the next day I arrived home. I had spent my time at school and at work preparing myself for what was to happen; I could focus on neither my studies nor my duties. It was a long sort of day because I knew that I would have to ante up for my obligations. So I slowly ascended the driveway, looking through the frost-cover windshield of my car as I rounded the corner.
There, parked near the house were a dozen trucks and vans – all of Dad’s friends had come to watch him collect on his bet. Men of different sizes stood in the yard drinking beer, laughing and warming their hands around a campfire. All of them smiled the smile of middle-aged men who had just one-upped a younger man. They were bundled in their parkas with their hats pulled low. I knew them all.
There, as if he’d conquered Mount Everest, stood Dad atop the house, shovel in hand and as proud as if he’d just caught a keeper musky. His smile stood out in a crowd of smiles. He was the winner and finally a hero in the eyes of his pals.
I will say that standing on the steps without my shirt, shovels of snow raining down onto me, it felt a lot like I imagine the stings of a thousand bees would feel. Until I went numb. After that I simply fell into the yard amid a chorus of cheers and laughter before Mom dragged me into the house.
I always liked Mom better.
Darrell Pendergrass of Grand View, is a Wisconsin Newspaper Association outdoor writing award winner and director of the Washburn Public Library. His articles have appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Milwaukee Journal. A collection of his stories appears in his new book, “Still Out There: A life afield,” is available for $18 at: Darrell Pendergrass, 52405 Otto Olson Road, Grand View, WI 54839.