In the final weeks of Family Bowl, three holdouts fill out one last scorecard
Waterford — It was a quiet night, which made sense.
Family Bowl is all but closed by now, opening its doors only for a couple birthday parties and field trips scheduled in June.
But on a rainy Thursday evening last week, three women knocked over some pins and gently gave each other a hard time.
They didn’t eat or drink anything, although the pub in the back of the alley had been full since 4 p.m., or earlier.
And they probably won’t be back.
The bowling alley will soon be sold to a developer, co-owner Jerry Picardi announced last month.
The place has struggled for years to bring in new customers, probably because everyone bowls on their television screens or just doesn’t have time, he said.
Kathy Menghi had time.
Menghi, 52, started tagging along with her grandfather to the Boston Post Road alley before she was 10 years old.
“I used to watch how people bowled, and then I started emulating them,” Menghi said.
She joined a teen league, then a women’s league that bowled once a week.
“My average was pretty good for a while,” she said.
The three women were then part of a league called the Winthrop Ladies, which met one evening a week for years.
They’re not sure where the name came from — it could have been that one of the founders lived on Winthrop Street in New London, they said.
It doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot now.
A few years ago, the women’s league was shut down. There weren’t enough people left.
“It’s a shame, it really is,” said Diane Wood, 58, one of the trio that has kept coming back since the league shut down.
The alley doesn’t look that different from when Menghi and her grandfather started coming in the 1960s.
The wooden floor has been refinished. At some point the Picardi family, Family Bowl’s owners for the last 50 years, added a few ten-pin lanes and electric scorers to bring in younger bowlers.
The pub opened up in the back, and the Picardis installed disco lights.
But it’s not hard to imagine the younger versions of Menghi and Wood surrounded by friends, family and competitors, bowling as they did on Thursday night.
The overhead score projectors would have been the same. So would the racks of shoes and the constant crashing and clicking of the mechanical ball return machines.
“I think at that time it was a very thriving business,” said Deborah Frawley, whose sister is married to Gary Picardi. Frawley has been the manager at Family Bowl for 12 years. “We had tons of birthday parties, we had leagues that would fill all the bowling alleys.”
“It was just a different atmosphere,” she said. “You knew everyone’s kids, you knew everybody's grandkids."
Since they stopped calling a mechanic to come fix the machines, Frawley has learned how to run back behind the wall of outer space-themed decorations over the pins and fix a stuck bowling ball or a malfunctioning piece of machinery.
She did that Thursday night, disappearing for a few minutes to the back of the alley before running back to the front desk.
“We’ve seen (the business) dwindle probably in the last five years or so,” she said. “No matter what you did, it didn’t bring in any more traffic in the door. Normally this would be filled up.”
Menghi, Wood and Annette Sutera — another former Winthrop Ladies teammate — sat quietly in between rounds.
Occasionally they would bring up someone's kids, or something they had heard in the news. Mostly they kept score.
They used lanes 15 and 16, two of the few that still work. Menghi, a lefty who had always been the strongest bowler, quickly took the lead.
Every once in a while she would score big, then turn around for a gentle high five.
One of Wood’s last rounds, she picked up a green ball from the return.
“Right down the middle,” Sutera, 75, advised. Wood’s ball went into the gutter.
“That’s not the middle,” she joked.
Two hours after they walked in, the group’s last game was over. Menghi had won, of course.
“I have no idea what my secret is," she said, deadpan. “Longevity.”
Frawley watched the trio gather their bags and scorecards.
Family Bowl won't be closed for good until the sale to Kincora Development is finalized and all the permits go through. Frawley has a couple large groups of children scheduled to come in this month, but all the remaining leagues and individual bowlers have either quit or found somewhere else to bowl.
Sutera asked how much they owed, but the answer was nothing.
Frawley just wanted to take a photo of the three bowlers before they went home and she had to turn of the lights.
"For posterity," she said.