By Dianne Ballon
On Saturday mornings in the 1960s, I bowled as a kid on a Saturday league. I loved walking in and seeing all those empty lanes ready to roll. My best friend, Donna Casa-Martin who grew up on my street, was on my team. We played in the Bantam league. Several other kids from either Woburn or Billerica were also on our team. The mother of one of those kids always stayed and watched us play.
“I remember when we found out that it cost only a dollar-twenty-five to join the Saturday league,” Donna recalls. “Three strings for a dollar and twenty-five cents for a hot dog and a Coke. I was afraid to ask my parents because in my mind that was a lot of money at the time. I can remember my grandmother would give the taxi driver a ten-cent tip. But, my parents let me go, and I got to bowl in the Saturday league.”
My sister Jackie was always embarrassed to ask for bowling shoes. She shot up like a weed in height when we were kids. She wore a size nine. Donna had tiny feet and wore a five and a half. I was somewhere in between.
“I won a trophy for bowling doubles,” Jackie recalls. “My friend Anne Marie Clougherty was my bowling partner and an excellent bowler. I hardly had to bowl at all. I don’t know why she picked me as a partner.”
The bowling alley was equally divided with ten-pin and candlepin. We bowled ten-pin. The stress was to get to the bowling alley early enough to find a bowling ball that fit my grip and then bring it over to the ball return before some other kid grabbed it. I bowled with the heavier black balls. Donna bowled with the lighter, brown-speckled ones. Each ball was numbered. Since all of the grips were not a perfect fit, I looked for #109, #112 and #206. The perfect fit for Donna was ball #22. After I secured mine, I helped Donna find hers.
Brunswick Bowl-A-Way and the DeVincents
The Brunswick bowling franchise goes back to 1895 when John Moses Brunswick started a company dedicated to “taking bowling out of Victorian parlors and into the public arena.” In the 1960s and 70s, Al and Rudy DeVincent, managed the Bowl-A-Way.
The DeVincents lived in Woburn before a fire eventually brought them to Burlington. “Our home in Woburn had a major fire in 1969,” Candi DeVincent recalls. “We had no insurance and nowhere to go for months. We all went in different directions, but my dad and my youngest brother stayed at the lanes. My brother Vance stuck close to my mother in the charred house, and I went to live with Lynda Young’s family. Thankfully, my parents found a house to rent close to the lanes on Old Colony Road, and we could all move home together.”
Both DeVincents helped coach the Saturday league. Parents who were also bowlers volunteered to help keep score. “My parents worked 24/7 for Brunswick,” Candi recalls. “My dad rarely had time off. My mother did double duty driving me and my brothers to music lessons. I took several dance classes on busy Saturdays. When my mom first started at the Bowl-A-Way, she still held two part-time jobs teaching typing at Waltham High School and knitting at Watertown High.”
Loretta Leavitt spent a good part of her life at the Bowl-A-Way. She and her older sister first joined a league in 1963 when she was thirteen. She warmly remembers the DeVincents. “Al was sort of a heavy set guy and always had this look on his face like he was mad. And some of us were afraid of him at the beginning. But once you got to know him, he was a teddy bear. He was like a dad to the boys. The girls loved his wife Rudy. They lived on the corner of Old Colony Road and Bedford Street. And sometimes we would go over and hang out.”
Cardinal Cushing Comes to the Bowl-A-Way
There were many events and benefits held at the Bowl-A-Way. My sister Jackie remembers a TV crew filming “Bowling for Dollars.” Candi remembers her mother’s accomplishments to make the events special. “My mother often invited sports figures to visit the junior bowlers at the lanes and at the end of the year bowling banquet.” Boston Bruins Ken Hodge and New England Patriots Ron Burton made appearances. TV personalities Rex Trailer of the Boston-based “Boomtown” and Native American Chief Halftown of the Philadelphia-based TV show also paid visits.
But it was the anticipated appearance of the Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing, that rocked our boat. Cardinal Cushing was to my mom, what the Beatles were to us. But to give you an idea of how huge this was for my mom, here’s a little background.
Every week night, we would be called in from dodgeball or Red Rover to say the rosary. At exactly quarter to seven, we tuned the dial on our AM radio to a taped broadcast from the Archdiocese of Boston of Cardinal Cushing praying the rosary. With a low, raspy voice and a heavy Bostonian accent, he sounded like he was reading the sports pages.
If supper ran late and we didn’t have time to play outside before the dreaded moment, we were stuck saying the rosary before we could go out. And every night, there would be a knock on the door and there stood Donna asking me to come out and play. Whenever we heard a knock, my mom would always say, “Oh, Donna!”
If Donna arrived and we had only five minutes to the finish line, she would be stuck praying with us. Of course, we would start to laugh and had a hard time settling down, much to the exasperation of my mother.
Finally the day had arrived, and there was Cardinal Cushing in full regalia, a huge presence sweeping past the lanes. My mother went up to him to customarily kiss his ring, but he immediately shooed her away. She was miffed. — Needless to say, this had no effect on our nightly vigils, and Donna continued to appear at the door at the designated time.
The Snack Bar
Some kids helped at the bowling alley before they were old enough to earn a paycheck. “When we were 13 or 14, we helped out. We would earn free games in exchange for putting the balls away or cleaning up,” Loretta remembers. “When I was sixteen, I worked at the snack bar. You were not allowed to eat and bowl. You could have a Coke at the lanes, but you had to stay at the back tables to eat. As an employee, you couldn’t just hang out at the tables. You had to be working or bowling.”
“Hanging around the lanes while my parents worked did have its perks and also helped monitor our whereabouts,” Candi recalls. “We all worked for free bowling, but I did collect a paycheck in the summer when I turned 16. At school I felt I had to be serious and was somewhat of an introvert. At the lanes, I was more social and didn’t have to follow school dress codes. Of course, there were tough kids always making trouble, and my dad had to be sure, especially during my teen years, that nobody unscrupulous was driving me anywhere.
“I did my homework next to my mother’s desk or at a table near the front desk. If I wasn’t either working or bowling the lanes, I was playing Whist at the table in front of the control desk.”
Love at the Bowl-A-Way
The bowling alley was also a place to hang out and find romance for better or worse. While our family was on vacation at Hampton Beach, my sister Jackie found out that her then-boyfriend had found a new love. She broke up with him at the Bowl-A-Way. She threw his ID bracelet at him and ran out the door. Heartbreak, indeed.
One Hundred and Eighty One
The scores were written with a wax pencil on a plastic sheet that could be wiped clean for the next team. The scoreboard was displayed above each lane on an overhead projector, so people going by could see your score. Loretta recalls, “There were two Lorettas on my team, so we each had a nickname. I was called ‘Sniffles’ because of my allergies. The other Loretta was called ‘Smudge’ because she always smudged the score sheet.”
One Saturday, I started getting a lot of strikes— so many, that the people at the front desk began to notice. After about the 6th strike, people started to gather behind the lanes to watch. My final score for that game was 181.
Here’s a photo of me and my bowling coach at the bowling banquet with my trophy— only they added an extra pin. The trophy read: Dianne Ballon—Highest Singles—182.
In 1965, Candi DeVincent and Lynda Young bowled in the Massachusetts State Doubles Tournament. Candi recalls, “There were three events: Singles, Doubles and Team. I always entered all three. Lynda was always my doubles partner. We bowled tournaments in Burlington, Malden, Auburn, South Shore, and Waltham. Our travel teams bowled in Walpole and other Massachusetts towns, and in Woonsocket, Rhode Island and border states. We had enough kids to fill two cars, and my mother usually was driving one of them.
“The Youngs were also a bowling family. Lynda’s brothers, Bill and Rick, bowled with us. Mother Louise Young was my mother’s doubles partner and part of a team called ‘The Unconscious Five.’ My brother Storm moved to Florida in his 20s. My parents followed in the mid to late 70s. My dad sponsored my brother’s tournaments, and they often watched when he was in the Florida regionals.
“In these pictures from 1965, when the state tournament was held in Burlington, Lynda and I must have done very well to have a big crowd behind us.”
Longevity and Community
The only place to buy a bowling ball or shoes was at the Pro Shop, which was located in the bowling alley. “When I was probably around 16 or 17, I got my own ball and shoes as a Christmas present or for my birthday in January,” Loretta remembers. “My parents waited until then, because they wanted to make sure I was serious about bowling and would stick with it.”
For many, the Bowl-A-Way established a community. “A lot of the kids who started in the Saturday league and went on to bowl in the adult league, ended up getting married to each other. And their children would come to bowl,” Loretta recalls.
“I remember the day the DeVincents told us they were retiring. All the girls were crying. They were our extended family. From age 13 until I was about 27, that bowling alley was a big part of my life. This was true for many of the bowlers who stayed over the years. I don’t think any of us would have ever dreamed that the bowling alley would be gone.”
After long and successful lives, the DeVincents both passed away in 2008. According to Candi, Rudy was 93 and played the piano up until her last day. Al followed with Parkinson’s and ultimately heart failure, asking where Rudy was that day.
Soon after Al and Rudy retired, the 50-year lease on the bowling alley building expired, and the landlord would not renew. End of an era. The building at 17 Terry Ave. lives on, but alas, the alley is gone.