The Bowling Ball

by John Cardinal, December, 2006

My parents had seven children: three boys, a girl, then me, then two more boys. That's six boys and a girl, with the girl right in the middle. My oldest brother Peter is two years older than Paul, and Paul is one year older than Walter. In the early 1960s, Peter, Paul, and Wally were all teenagers, and they got into various sorts of mischief. From what I remember, and from stories they have told over the years, Paul was a little less reckless than Peter and Wally. He probably did as many things wrong as his two brothers, but he was a little smarter about it and got caught less often.

Peter and Walter hatched a plan one day to steal a bowling ball from Randy's Bowlaway, and then break it. What better way was there to see what was inside? Was it solid, like a rock, or did it have a hollow center, or what? Paul wasn't very interested, but he went along as an observer. I was not a party to this criminal escapade because I was nine years younger than Wally, far too young to be anything more than an annoyance to my older brothers.

It's not clear how they stole the bowling ball. Presumably, they bowled a few strings and then snuck the ball out under a shirt or a jacket. Randy's Bowlaway was a candlepin bowling alley, and a candlepin bowling ball is pretty easy to conceal.

Pete and Wally took the ball to the East Junior High School. The school was an architectural odd-ball, a 1911 building with a "modern" 1950s addition that looked like someone stuck the fuselage of a jet airplane on the end of a covered wagon. Both the old and new portions were covered in red brick, their only similarity. At one end of the addition there was a brick wall that had no windows on the first-floor portion. Between the ground and the windows on the second floor there was about 16 feet of solid brick. That facade was going to help Pete and Wally break the bowling ball.

They took turns trying to break the ball. They ran a few steps and heaved the ball with all their might at the wall. They must have looked a little like a cricket hurlers. After a few dozen tosses, the ball was a little scuffed, and some brick had chipped off the wall, but the ball wouldn't break. Their arms were tired, and the speed of the ball was dropping fast. It seemed that breaking the ball was going to be harder than they thought.

Paul was pretty amused by their futile attempts. He was two years younger than Pete, but bigger and stronger, and he thought the problem was a lack of strength. He stepped in, and according to Pete and Wally, said something like, "Let me show you how it's done."

Paul used the basic maneuver: he trotted a few steps, then heaved the ball at the wall. As it turned out, his extra strength did make a difference; he threw the ball harder, but he also threw it higher. The ball rose out of his hand, went above the brick portion of the wall, and crashed through a second floor window.

Pete and Wally broke into hysterics, and then they broke into a run. They laughed at Paul and his arrogance about having the strength to break the ball, and they ran because they didn't want to be around when the police arrived.

Paul was calm, and he thought through the situation. He decided that walking away calmly would draw less attention than a guilty run, so he started walking.

As it turned out, the guilty run was the right idea. A few blocks from the school, a police car stopped next to Paul and questioned him. They decided he was involved and brought him back to the school. Pete and Wally escaped.

When he arrived back at the scene of the crime with the police, Paul was surprised to see mom standing outside the school with a group of other ladies. As it turns out, my mother was the president of the Parent Teacher Association, and the PTA was meeting in the room next to the one where the bowling ball made its surprise appearance. They heard the crash and when they went to investigate they saw the broken window and the bowling ball, and it was they who called the police.

Paul did the correct thing according to teenager rules and he claimed sole responsibility for the broken window. My mother didn't believe him, of course, but she didn't have proof. Years later the full story was revealed, and over time it became a popular story at family gatherings.

My mother always said that the bowling ball incident was one of the most embarrassing moments of her life. She raised six boys, and that explains why it was only one of the most embarrassing moments rather than the most embarrassing moment.

My brothers never did get to see the inside of a bowling ball.

Copyright © 2006 by John Cardinal. All rights reserved.

I've been told this story many times, and the basic facts described here are correct, but the details may have been changed or embellished over the years. Breaking windows was a family trait. See the story of The Golf Ball.