I'm a bowling alley baby. My parents were both bowlers, and my dad was even the night manager at the bowling alley when I was really little. Yep, from a young age, the sound of bowling balls speeding towards the wooden pins was familiar. The crashes of the pins as the ball plowed through them was just background noise. I knew the bowlers, the cooks, and the bartenders. I knew which of the arcade games was most likely to be working. I knew that when I got tired, a few chairs put together made a good bed, and a few coats served nicely as a pillow and blanket. The bowling alley sounds were a lullaby as I napped in the crowded building.
I also knew how to get treats just for being cute. It was known that if the owner was there when I showed up, I'd get a dollar, just for being on the planet. Then there was the bartender. Without fail he was at his post behind the bar making sure that the bowlers were provided with their snacks and alcohol. Being far too young to drink didn't stop me from being a frequent visitor to that bar. My sister and I would hop up on the bar stools, spin them around a few time, then give the bartender our best little girl smiles. All we'd have to say was, "Hi Roger" and we were rewarded with a pretzel rod. Roger would always give them to us like it was a big secret while telling us not to tell our parents. We'd giggle and run off with our prizes as little girls are apt to do. Sometimes we were not the little angels we liked to think we were. We'd be running too much or having an argument with each other and be forced to sit. It was torture watching all the excitement going on while we just had to sit there. On occasions like that, Roger would sneak over with a special treat. A cherry coke. The real kind with cherry syrup mixed with fountain coke. He'd put a few cherries in it and make sure one sank to the bottom so we'd have that special surprise at the end.
Those days when I was so little, I knew him as the silly bartender who always knew how to make me laugh. Those nights at the bowling alley he could be my own personal clown. My sisters and I didn't know that our dad had known him since high school. That knowledge came later when our days at the alley were fewer. Growing up allowed me to begin to see that people can be woven into my life in many different ways. The bowling alley was how I met him, but he became an even more frequent figure in my life when he married a friend of our family. She kept us after school while our parents worked, and he'd be there. He used to take long walks every day. Some days while I was there, he'd invite me along. Those walks were not little strolls through the neighborhood. Sometimes they felt like treks through the entire county. He didn't even look tired afterwards, but I sure needed a nap.
Eventually, we moved in right across the street. The day we were moving in, we were greeted with a sign taped across the front door that said, "Welcome to the Neighborhood". It was his idea. He was glad to have us there. As neighbors do, he would greet me if he saw me out. A simple, "hello" was not a Roger greeting at all. He'd yell, "DUH". I don't remember why, but it didn't matter. When I heard that I knew Roger was out and about. That one word meant, "hey there, how are you, hope you're having a good day". Of course I always answered back with the same greeting. That one word may have been a short conversation, but it didn't matter. It was all anyone needed to have a proper conversation with Roger.
He was always so tan. He'd either spend his summer days laying out by his pool or taking his walks. Some summers I would wonder if he bothered having shirts at all. In the evenings he would sit in his front yard with his dogs and just take in the evening or chat with the neighbors.
He was a practical joker. My family and I never knew what we were going to find on our front porch (candles, wind chimes, a fake bird). Or maybe our windshield wipers would be turned up for no reason. For good measure, why not put a fake severed hand on the windshield on Halloween. Actually, I'm not sure if I should blame Roger or his son for that one, but even if it was Jason, it was Roger's DNA that caused it. I still have that severed hand in my car. Then, of course on Christmas mom would send him a card from the family, and he'd send us one. His card was always the same card we sent him with our names crossed out and his, Ryan, and Jason's written in.
He loved to have fun. It was becoming tradition to meet Roger outside when we were leaving for vacation.....at two in the morning. He'd be getting out of a cab because he was certainly in no condition to drive home. He'd always ask us why we were out with this look on his face that just couldn't comprehend why anyone sober would be awake at that hour. Then he tell us that he hoped he could remember where he left his car in the morning. I never quite knew if he was joking or if he had just had a really good night that night.
More recently he hadn't been taking those famous walks. He was having back problems, and had had surgery. He was getting around with a walker. You always knew where he had been parked because he'd just leave the walker sitting there. You never knew where you were going to find that thing. The neighbor's little dog would attack it. It was just sort of understood that if you found it, you put it in his front yard. Although sometimes we wondered if we might just be better off leaving it where it was. This year he sent a toy over for my sister's new baby, and he even gave us a Christmas card that wasn't recycled this year. You never really knew what to expect from him.
He was such a big personality that just filled the room with laughter. You were just happy to be talking to Roger, and he was always happy to be talking to you. That's why losing him a few weeks ago is so hard to take. It was so sudden. Nobody saw it coming. He was the energizer bunny that just kept going and going. It never occurred to me that he'd be gone so soon. Maybe Heaven needed a practical joker. Perhaps God needed someone to take a walk with. When I heard that he passed, I was sort of shocked at how hard it hit. Of course any death is sad, but I never quite expected to hurt quite so much losing someone not related to me. That was Roger though. He was in your life, and he just found a way to be in your heart. I can't imagine how devastated his sons are.
It won't be the same with him not sitting out in his front yard this summer. It's already strange just seeing his walker sitting immobile on the front porch. Of course, Roger will never be gone. His sons look just like him, and have been known to act like him too. I'll miss him, and it will be a while before I stop expecting to hear him yell "DUH" from somewhere across the street.
Roger, you will never be forgotten. If there's a bar in heaven, pull up a stool, spin around on it a little, then have a pretzel rod and a cherry coke on me.