Still Knocking Them Down At 94 Years Of Age

01 September 2017 Written by  By Yvonne Cooper

My 94-year-old mother, Mildred Evans, didn’t begin bowling until middle age, but has spent her last 50 years pursuing a passion for bowling.

 Her love affair with the sport began when her brother challenged her to accompany him to a bowling alley and give it a try. She remembers that they were bowling with duckpins, using a little ball that was only five inches in diameter with no finger holes. This was long before mechanical spotting machines and computer operated scoring systems, so young boys serving as pin spotters replaced the pins following each throw. Bowlers penciled in their own scores on a paper form. I was in school when Mom picked up her first bowling ball. I think Mom began having fun right from the very first frame. Before she got too many games under her belt it also became apparent that she had a gift for the sport. This was before bowling leagues became popular, but she and a group of friends would gather together each week to go bowling just for fun.

As her hobby grew into a real passion, I was surprised at how devoted she became to mastering the game. I accompanied her a few times and watched her play, but the bug never bit me. By the time I was in high school Mom was visiting bowling alleys around the West and sometimes playing in actual tournaments. She never said much about this, but I saw a picture of Mom with a smile on her face from that time holding up a trophy she had won. In her later years, Mom joined a bowling team that competed in tournaments around the United States traveling as far away as Nevada, Ohio, Illinois, and Virginia. These women were real competitors; Mom and her team won many trophies.

Mom currently bowls two times a week at the Delta Bowling Alley in Antioch. Her highest of three games so far this year is 185. She’s an encouragement to other senior bowlers, all of whom, of course, are younger than she is — some of them decades younger. One of her friends, Ms. Bea, spoke for many in the group when she said, “It’s a pleasure to bowl with Mildred because she bowls so well for a member of our age group. She keeps me motivated because I feel if she can do it, I can too.” Then she added, “I’m glad that her daughter brings her, and glad that God put her here with us.” Another bowling friend Michele seconded the thought. “Mildred is an inspiration to all of us who feel we are too old to bowl. All we have to do is take a look at her and we feel rejuvenated. If she can do it, so can we. We all just love her!” Another fellow bowler Eileen said, “Mildred is really good. She has an eye for the game.” Then she added. “And she is a sweetheart. So nice!”

When she is not bowling, Mom loves to play Scrabble, 500, and Rummy. She likes to watch People’s Court-type shows on television and attend movies. She enjoys traveling and in 2012, at 89 years of age, took a cruise through the Panama Canal. Last year, she celebrated her 93rd birthday by paying visits to friends and family in New York and Pennsylvania. This year, she celebrated her birthday in Reno, and marveled at the 78-lane National Bowling Stadium. Two of her bowling buddies, Michele and Eileen, also gave her a 94th birthday celebration at the bowling alley. Mom was surprised and happy that people outside of her family thought well enough of her to pay her such recognition. Other bowling friends treated her to lunch at a nearby Chinese buffet. Mom really appreciated this because she likes Chinese food and especially enjoys buffets where she can select what she wants to eat and how much of it.

My mother, Mildred Evans, was born in Gainesville, Florida, in 1923. She and her family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when she was seven years old. She married Benjamin Evans in 1939. World War II broke out, Dad joined the Navy, and when I was three years old his ship was lost at sea. Mom never remarried. She has a single grandchild. Our daughter Tyese is an accomplished stylist. She loves to design clothes and make people look good. Tyese lives in Paris. Though physically far distant from each other, Tyese and Mom are very close in heart and spirit.

Mom’s life always embraced a deeper and more important theme than bowling, playing games, and travel. She has a genuine passion for serving others. The joy of serving and helping people is of utmost importance to her. Her generosity and caring spirit has been apparent in various ways throughout her life. She was a professional nurse who spent a career caring for patients. She worked at Pittsburgh’s Magee-Womens Hospital. She also established a day care center in her home and provided a loving atmosphere for her children.

Mom was in her 50s when she started foster care services taking in a number of children. She provided a loving and nurturing home for them, raising some of them from four years of age to adulthood. By then I was gone from home and living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvia. I was her only biological child, and when I returned to visit the first time I was surprised at the little munchkins running around the house and calling my mother “Mom.” It was a little shocking at the time to hear them saying “Mom this” and “Mom that.” I asked her about it and she said that she gave them a choice when they first came to live with her. “You can call me Nonnie,” she told them. “Or Mrs. Evans. Or you can call me mom.” She said they didn’t have any hesitation about their choice. They wanted to call her mom.

Mom’s concern for people needing assistance spread beyond taking care of children, because, beginning in 1969, she also ran an adult care facility out of her home caring for veterans, as well as educationally and emotionally handicapped adults.

Mom is a woman of faith. She doesn’t have any official duties as a member of her Delta Community Presbyterian Church, but she was the head usher, a deacon, and an elder in her previous church in Pennsylvania.

Will Cooper and I married in 1971, and in 2010 Mom moved to California to live with us in our Discovery Bay home. Will is glad to make a home for Mom. He likes to help with the cooking and Mom likes to eat, so that was nice. I always tried to prepare nutritious foods with the idea that eating healthy would increase my chances of living a long life. However, Mom made it into her 90s by eating chicken wings or anything fried, plus ice cream and chocolate. She doesn’t like salads, especially anything with lettuce. At first she was really turned off by the kinds of entrées and dishes that I tried to serve. “What is this?” she would ask about a quinoa salad, or “I don’t like that,” she would say about poached fish or about other healthy foods that I set before her. It was difficult after so many decades to make changes, but now that she’s been with us for six years, Mom is beginning to appreciate some of the foods that I like to eat.

I take Mom to her bowling outings each week, but I still have no real interest in the game. Golf is my game. I play nine holes with friends twice a week at Discovery Bay Golf Course followed by lunch. We’re not serious golfers; the game is mostly an excuse to get outdoors and get some exercise. We have as much fun if we four-putt a green as when we put the ball down with a single stroke.

I could never play any sport with the passion that my mom has for bowling. The fact is that not many people have done anything with as much passion for as long as Mom has been bowling. She’s always having fun, but I think getting a turkey or picking up a spare following a 4/10 split satisfies something deep in her soul. That’s why she keeps going back to the bowling alley. She’s planning to keep going back, I suppose, for as long as she can pick up the ball and sometimes knock all the pins down, which lifts Mom’s spirits and sets her bowling alley buddies to cheering.

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