Inside an Arcadia bowling alley, John George balanced himself with his left arm and let fly with an 8-pound ball. About 30 miles away, at a recreation center in Santa Monica, Ethel Brunnick took aim at a headpin with a 10 pounder.
Life in the slow lane. Maybe neither of them hurls a heavy ball, and maybe it doesn't arrive at its destination with the greatest of speed. But it isn't everybody who reaches age 94, as George has, or 98, as Brunnick has, and even fewer at that stage of life stay fit by bowling every week.
Let us marvel at George first, inasmuch as he observed his birthday last week.
After the old-timer blew out four candles on a cake baked for him by fellow competitors at the Santa Anita Lanes, he parked behind his chair the cane that had supported his arrival and got down to the business at hand--bettering his score of the previous week.
"You know, I had never even held one of these things in my hands until I was 81," George said while extracting his bowling ball from his bag.
His 69-year-old son, Cecil, at whose Monrovia home he lives, said his father never had time for that sort of diversion.
"When he was younger, he knew nothing but work," said the son, who transports his father by car to his weekly competition. "His father was a railroad yard worker, and his own first job was in an iron foundry in Oregon. Then for years he owned a dairy farm there."
Subsequently, he and his late wife, Kathryn, moved to a house trailer in Huntington Beach. "By then I had retired and was living alone because my wife had to be in a convalescent home," the elder George recalled. "One night I was sitting there, lonely, watching 'Bowling for Dollars' on television. I got to thinking it might be fun to get my exercise by bowling."
The octogenarian at that time went to some nearby lanes and sat watching. "Is there anybody here who could teach a young fella like me how to bowl?" he wound up asking. "The manager came over and showed me the fundamentals."
Thus it began and thus it continues. Regulation bowling balls weigh up to 16 pounds, and George understandably settled for a lighter one. During the past 13 years, his scores have included games of 209 and 200. At present, his average coincides exactly with his 94 years.
Bothered by Knees
Upperclass, the league of seniors in which George participates, includes such four-member teams as We Are Trying. He belongs to Hits and Misses, and already has a 119 game during this, the winter season.
"I don't take steps to the foul line because my knees bother me a little," he conceded.
Walking to the line, he held out his left arm as if signaling for a turn and uncorked a throw that a baseball pitcher might describe as having movement. "I don't throw a hook because I can't control it, but sometimes it does it anyway," he said.
Although the others were busy completing their own three games, many were aware of the most senior of all of them. When he hit a three-pin spare, cheers broke out.
George, however, is just a pup compared with a kegler in Santa Monica. Not once, but twice weekly, the 98-year-old Brunnick shows up at the Bay Shore Bowl to participate in separate leagues.
Took Up Game at 78
"I didn't take up the game until I was 78," she said. "My husband, Walter, died 40 years ago, and 20 years ago I decided to move to Santa Monica from San Pedro. Trouble was, I had been active in square dancing, and I couldn't find any in my new town.
"A friend of mine told me about bowling for seniors. To tell the truth, I didn't think I'd be interested, but one day I went along."
Two years from the century mark--her next birthday will be Aug. 30--Brunnick is still going along. Not only to her six games a week at Bay Shore Bowl, but for the last 16 years to the national tournament of the Women's International Bowling Congress.
This year's was in Toledo, Ohio, and--surprise--the Southlander was the oldest participant. She also was half of the oldest doubles team, paired with 82-year-old Elsie Spicer of Santa Monica.
Brunnick rolls a mean ball. "Two years ago I had a 580 series, and a few months ago I had a 181 game. I didn't bowl my first 200 game until after my 90th birthday."
As a photographer captured her in action the other day, she cleverly picked up the 3-10 spare. She has averages of 102 and 112 in her two leagues. She uses a three-step delivery and throws a straight ball.
She travels to the alleys alone by bus from her apartment, and walks a couple of blocks from the stop.
Helps Marital Longevity
Bowling would appear to also help marital longevity. In the Arcadia center, on a neighboring alley to George's, Lola and Ralph Smith of El Monte were making their tosses.
Each is age 84, and they have been married 63 years.
Old-age blues? No problem here. "After I retired, I used to take care of 12 lawns a week, mainly to stay fit and have something to do," George said. "When I discovered this, I gave up the lawns."
For all of these seniors, energy to spare.