Monday, December 21, 2015

Ten Cents worth of History

It didn't belong there.

I was at a college surplus sale.  You go there to pick up slightly out of date computer equipment and sturdy yet clunky storage shelves that you usually regret buying.  I got a few things; a coffee maker for a buck, a phone for the cabin, nothing great.

So why was there a box of bowling trophies?  I already have too much kitschy stuff laying around but trophies sometimes get re-purposed as awards for my robotics competitions.  So I grabbed the best one.  Heck, it was only ten cents and I think you will agree, its a beauty.

Traditionally it is baseball that is considered to be the sport that defines the character of America.  I won't argue the point here.  But if you specifically wanted to understand Middle America, that chilly flyover land seldom seen on the news, I think bowling could stake a rival claim.

People bowl on teams.  They wear slightly silly uniforms.  Unlike baseball you can eat a cheeseburger and fries while participating.  Until recently you could smoke.  Bowling is a game that is rooted in small town tradition but present in larger places.   It tends to be an older person's game but kids do it also.  For years it was one of our Christmas family traditions.

There is an entire set of non visual features of bowling that are every bit as distinctive as baseball. The rumbling progress of the ball with the sudden crash of impact on the pins.  The tactile rush of air from the little hand dryer built into the ball return.  The faint smell of cigarettes that while ever diminishing will probably never vanish entirely.

So, my dime's worth of American history?

Feit's Lanes was a classic small town bowling alley/bar in Park Falls Wisconsin.  I found a couple of images of it.  Here it was in its heyday:

It is actually for sale now.  Looking over the prospectus I had a hard time reconciling the pictures. But with the old facade apparently sheared off and replaced with something unfortunate, this is Feit's today:

The information that accompanies this says that the bowling alleys were torn out years ago making a larger space for bands, gatherings and so forth.  I saw this photo and just got sad.

For over sixty years Feit's Bowling alley and bar was run by a Robert A. Feit.  You can probably imagine him in your mind.  Tubby guy with a crew cut.  Always talking. He likely had a million stories, none of them true.

But you would be wrong.  Very wrong indeed.

Robert Feit was born and raised in Park Falls.  In 1946 he came back to marry his sweet heart and settle down.  But for a few years he was a member of the United States Marine Corps First Raider Battalion, also known as Edson's Raiders.  Wounded, many times decorated, he saw some of the most ferocious fighting of the Pacific War, as a member of a truly elite military formation.

I bet he kept the crew cut.  The years do tend to leave their mark on our once trim waists.  But the stories... I bet most of the ones we would actually tell you were true.  But he didn't talk that much and the stories he wouldn't tell you were the truest ones.

Robert Feit 1926 to 2007.  Semper Fi.

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