I may hold a record. There’s a chance that I could be one of the youngest surviving bowling pin setters in the United States.
When I was a kid in the early 1960s, most of the bowling alleys had gone to automatic pin setters. But there was a neighborhood club that had two old-school bowling lanes that had pins set by kids.
On Friday and Saturday nights during the winter, the men of the club would toss a few games while tossing down a few beers. It was 50 cents a game, and the kids setting the pins would split it with the house.
It was a world where 10-year-olds scrambled to duck flying bowling pins for two hours and finish the night with eight bits in pocket change. I loved it.
In my dreams, I can still hop from my perch, heft a ball down the ramp, clear the dead wood, and leap back up before a grown man could belch away the beer and toe the line for a spare.
I thought about all that when the papers reported that Mitch Miller died recently at the age of 99. Miller was a record producer who became a celebrity by putting together albums with songs like “I’ll take You Home Again, Kathleen” or “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up that Old Gang of Mine.” His gimmick was a choral group singing the songs, the lyrics printed with the album, and everybody invited to sing along.
He became a star when he took his shtick to television for “Sing Along With Mitch” from 1961 to 1964. You could sing along by following the bouncing ball over the lyrics at the bottom of the screen.
The men at the club couldn’t get enough of it. When “Sing Along With Mitch” came on, the guys who won World War II would crowd into the bar to spend a half-hour belting out the old tunes together. And we’d sit at the back of the lanes listening to what we considered cornball music and imagine the money we were losing because of Mitch Miller.
A story in Catholic New York by Claudia McDonnell after Mitch Miller died reported how the producer, son of a Russian Jewish immigrant, helped the Newburgh, N.Y., Dominican Sisters’ choir put together an album.
Mitch was a friend of Father John Cannon, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York who was the brother of Dominican Sister Rose Anita Cannon. She met with Mitch to get some advice on how the choir might raise a few dollars.
Mitch gave them access to his recording studio, put them on his show, and even ponied up a $5,000 contribution out of his own pocket.
The Newburgh Dominican Sisters taught at Christ the King School in Yonkers, N.Y., where I garnered not much of a reputation for eight years. Sister Rose Anita Cannon, who met with Mitch, sang in the choir and appeared on his show, was my fourth-grade teacher.
Sister Rose Anita was Ingrid Bergman in “The Bells of St. Mary’s.” She was sweet, kind and, even in the full traditional habit, considered by the boys in class to be quite the looker. And fourth-grade boys are not easily impressed.
The Catholic New York story reported that a CD was made of the original album to preserve it, but there are only a precious few remaining.
The Newburgh Dominicans merged with two other Dominican congregations in 1995 to form the Dominican Sisters of Hope.
The guys who sang along with Mitch at the bowling alley have gone to their reward. Sister Rose Anita left the order a long time ago.
So, there’s just one old pin setter remaining. His brain is crowded with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, but still remembers that “where your heart will feel no pain, and when the fields are fresh and green, I’ll take you home again, Kathleen.”
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.