Wanda’s Blue Bowling Shirt

Wandering through the house and lawn at estate sales, buyers may peruse a super clean house with tidy shelves of dishes and ornaments attesting to good housekeeping. Or, they may find an overstuffed “Pickers Sale.” Clean or cluttered, customers hope something catches their eye such as the cornflower blue bowling shirt that caught my eye at a recent sale. Its boldly patterned cuffs and collar stood out among the more traditional shirts, blouses and jeans. It was not an octogenarian’s typical attire.

This bowling shirt belonged in that closet. “She bowled many, many years. She bowled when we were home and quit about 20 years ago,” her son Frank Smith said.

She put down the bowling ball but kept her mementos. For the estate sale, her bowling balls and bag were tagged and displayed. On the dresser, a tray offered all her bowling pins for a few dollars. Some pins recognized her skill, others spoke of her years as a tournament and league player.

With closer inspection, the King Louie bowling shirt revealed that Wanda (the name on the shirt) played for the Cupples Refrigeration Team. At the waist is a pocket where, long ago, Wanda stitched her hometown league’s badge with its picture of an oil derrick and a bowling ball. The WIBC (Women’s International Bowling Congress) triple score on her sleeve declares she made three strikes in a row. Other badges affirm her skill with awards for having scored 200.

She went everywhere with bowling,” her son said. A fistful of badges inside her pocket track the height of her active years in bowling and her skills in the game. Before she retired from bowling in her late 60s Wanda Smith traveled the country to national tournaments and was the league champion from 1976 to 1980.

Her badges for state bowling tournaments took her to Springdale, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Little Rock, Texarkana and the Arkansas State WBA (Women’s Bowling Association) in Fort Smith. Oh, the places she carried her bowling ball wearing that blue bowling shirt. In time, the shirt only had enough room for the Championship tournaments she played across the nation in St. Louis, Las Vegas, Tucson, Miami, Memphis, Seattle, Denver and Baltimore.

For many, many years, Wanda bowled with the league one night a week. She played the year of our nation’s Bicentennial and wore a red, white and blue badge depicting a bowling pin and ball with 200 on it and another patch for the Bicentennial of the United States of America.

For years, one night a week after work, Wanda came home, replaced her work clothes with bowling shirts, slacks and shoes, grabbed the ever – ready bowling bag and left for an evening of fun with the team. On bowling night, Wanda Smith spun the ball down the alley, tallied the pins her ball knocked down and celebrated with competitions around the country. Wanda made time for bowling and bowling made an athlete in her.

Then something changed. First, she quit collecting badges from other states. Then collecting Arkansas badges. The last one dates 1996, about the year Wanda hung up her shirt and tucked the bowling bag and balls deep in her closet. The nights of crashing pins ended, but still she kept the memories alive with her collection of badges, pins and shirt.

No family can keep absolutely everything from their loved one’s estate. The shirt, badges, pins and balls sold. Her son kept the pictures of the smiling, victorious bowler and her team mates to insure that future family members know that Grandma made history at the bowling alley.