As you read this on the brink of 2020 I will be in Montana, as I have been every year for New Year’s Eve but two since I graduated from college in 1976. One of the first years I was working as a management wannabe I decided I would stay in Iowa so I wouldn’t miss work days, and my vacation back then was a scant two weeks a year. I spent Christmas with my then boyfriend and his family—a warm and welcoming group and a really lovely holiday. But I vowed I would never miss another family Christmas holiday because of work, no matter how much needed to be done, or how dire my remaining vacation situation was. It was too lonely, too invasive to spend such a special day with other folks.
The only other New Year’s Eve I missed was when my husband Scot took ill and was advised not to travel. This was the Christmas of 2013 and was the year my daughter moved to Texas. We ended up flying to Texas for Christmas Day and spending New Year’s Eve bowling remotely for the tournament.
Ah, the Tournament.
When Scot and I married, we spent most Christmas holidays in Montana with my family. Christmas day was spent with family with a big dinner and presents—the usual. But New Years. That was a different situation. Our family never really had a tradition around New Years. In Hardin, Montana, there were few bars or nightclub type places to go, and our family really didn’t hang out that way.
So, one of the first years Scot came back with me he and I hosted the family to go roller skating. We were not a roller-skating family, so it was clear the event was all for fun. A rink had recently been built. Everyone in the family, from my mom in her 60s, siblings & spouses, teens to toddlers and babies. The family had so much fun we thought we would make it an annual event. The next year we skated again. And then the rink closed.
The third year with no roller rink, the only other alternative we could think of was the community bowling alley. Our family was about as good at bowling as we had been at roller skating. But the beauty of bowling is that there can be winners and losers! Thus began our annual bowling tournament, replete with a trophy for highest game, awards for team and individual winners and losers, and recognition prizes for all the littlest bowlers.
The tradition has held true for around 30+ years. My children have never known a New Year’s Eve without a large family gathered at the Hardin Community Bowling Alley. Garry and Barb Link, owners of the bowling alley, and their family were there every year, too. Extended family—in-laws and out-laws, friends through the generations. Babies have been born, generations have passed on.
The group expands and contracts—the smallest number of bowlers was in the mid-20s, the largest in the 40s. There are few rules—the main one being if a bowler wins the high game three years in a row he or she takes home the trophy and supplies a new traveling trophy. Each winner’s name and their high score is inscribed on the trophy. The trophy has only been retired two times in these 30+ years—Once by my sister-in-law Nadine who won three straight within the first five years. She won a picture frame hand drawn trophy and replaced it with a wooden bowling pin. The pin was almost filled up with winners’ names when after about 25 years my son Tom won three in a row to retire the pin.
You can’t imagine how exciting it was to see a child who had literally grown up in this bowling tournament reach a goal of winning. And for that winner to be my own kid was a thrill, too. So Tom supplied the next trophy—a wood-turned pin on a backdrop of an alley with marks.
The latest winner is from the fourth generation. A young man with great potential. That’s what a family bowling tournament can do.
Some of us will never win. Our chance, if we ever had one, has long passed. But we continue to come together, one night a year, with family and friends, to celebrate the years past, the upcoming year, and all that we have shared. Once more.