Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lawn Bowling’s “The Family” Deserve Their Own Reality Show

Given all the years I have sat in the sun and watched the older set move their bowls (never call them “balls) back and forth across the green, the little white ball being the goal, not until today did I almost laugh out loud.

You see, and I must be discrete about this (the game is so generally discrete), there is a fanatic of a middle aged man who lives nearby with three sons, all of them now lawn bowling. The youngest, who just popped up, might be around eight or nine. The older one, Jonathan, now about in his mid teens, is developing a sense of humor. I’ve watched him over the last maybe seven years grow up, for when the local clubs get together on the Oakland greens, there comes “the family.” I think they hail from Berkeley. The boys are absolutely remarkable. Bowl on with me, please ...

“You are Jesus, Matt!” cried Jonathan across the green to his wee little brother, whose “bowl” (not ball) had just reached the white mark by a kiss. “I bow to you!”

Meanwhile, earlier the father, whom I call the John McEnroe of the sport, nearly threw a fit, or so it seemed, I guess by not being part of a winning end. He has a reputation for — how to put this in discrete lawn bowl speak — untoward behavior. And today, that is what had me laughing inside. His sons seem so much more cool and mature. In fact, I've never seen a trace of the father's temperament surface in any of them. Which makes me wonder if they ever find his as amusing as I do.

“Oh, God!” sighed the father another time, openly out loud, after another bad end. I wonder on the off hours if he practices up and down a long green carpeted hall way in his home, with side rooms for grief counseling, rebirthing and video study playback.

The boys are a delight, especially now that Jonathan and the middle brother, Joshua, have developed a nice camaraderie. The mother sits on the sidelines, now with a little girl, and I wonder if the little girl will too be lured onto the green. I’ve been told by the mother and others that the boys play because they love being with their dad, and when daddy and sons are competing against each other, thankfully the father conducts himself as an equal, no tantrums against his sons, who themselves are often the superior athletes. This I saw for the first time today, when the father was getting coached from across the green by Jonathan, and took it like a perfect lawn bowling player. And the welcome display of etiquette gave me a better feeling about him, and I am happy for him that he now, with his three sons in action, can launch a game whenever the foursome agree.

At a recent regional tournament, Joshua won the whole thing bowling against dozens of not so very young codgers, including his slightly older brother. The Dad, I could see, was staying away and proud; perhaps it’s unbowling like for anybody but the caddie (if that’s what he would be called) to bark out suggested moves. It’s all in the nuances.

Maybe they should be called the sport’s first family. Nobody knows of their equal anywhere else, nor have the boys inspired other kids their age to take up a game long played by the grey set.

“That’s surgery!” sighed Johnathan with a flair, after knocking his bowl into an opponent’s and lessening the score against he and his team mates on that precarious end.

“You are Jesus, Josh!” cried Jonathan. Only seconds later, he was forced to recant. “No, you aren’t.” Josh’s bowl did not go where it appeared to be going.

And why don’t I play?. Many of them have wondered, I know. Years back, I nearly took a sign with me to erect above my bench --- “Do not disturbed, spectator only.” They are perhaps more intrigued by me than I am by them. This is a sport I like to savor in a relaxed, semi-meditative mode. This is a sport of gracious manners, even if The Family departs from them now and then. They have the making of a very good and even funny reality show, now that Jonathan has found a public voice.

“You are Jesus, Josh. I bow to you!”

Gosh, maybe I should join up. I’d like to enjoy such a sacred status on occasion, being bowed to, and all under the promised summer sun.

[photos, 2003, of Jonathan in action]

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