MARYSVILLE — Even behind a blue medical mask, Mae Tomita’s broad smile was evident Wednesday at Strawberry Lanes.
But the smile shifted into focus as she grabbed her 10-pound marbled navy blue and yellow bowling ball and stepped up to throw. Right foot, left foot, a short pause, then a quick right-left, right-left. The ball rolled along Lane No. 5’s right edge, broke in toward the center and crashed through the pins, leaving only one standing in the back right corner, which she picked up for a spare on her first frame to applause and cheers.
Not bad for most bowlers, let alone one celebrating her 100th birthday.
“I thought I might have to quit bowling when I turned 100,” she said after her fifth frame, another spare.
Dozens of people, some regular senior league bowlers and other family members and friends, gathered to celebrate her on a busy day that started with a video call with her family, including grandchildren in Winnipeg, Canada and Istanbul, Turkey.
Carol Perry, 103, was there before the bowling began to celebrate Tomita, who has been inspired by Perry to keep rolling.
“I was thinking of quitting when I got 99, 100,” Tomita said. “But she was past me, so I thought if she could do it, I could do it.”
Trish Murphy, a Strawberry Lanes league bowler, has known Tomita for over 20 years and helped organize the birthday bash. She said Tomita is the same kind of bowler now as she was decades ago — sweet and self-deprecating.
“She just keeps moving,” Murphy said.
Tomita was born in Wapato, Washington, to Japanese immigrants. During World War II, she and her family were incarcerated at Minidoka War Relocation Center in southern Idaho. After the government let them leave, she and her first husband stayed in the area, moving to the Treasure Valley area near the border of Idaho and Oregon.
After divorcing and remarrying, she moved to Lowell, Idaho. She started bowling in that area in 1975, because a friend invited her to try it and she didn’t have anything better to do, she said.
“The bar was upstairs, the bowling alley was downstairs,” Tomita said.
An illness convinced her to move in with her daughter, Kathy Watanabe, in Lake Stevens in 1993.
“I had to give it a thought. I told her, ‘If I move up there, I’m not going to cook for you three times a day,’” Tomita said. “I don’t regret that now.”
“Once I got her here, I got her used to drinking lattes,” Watanabe said.
Tomita made the rounds to bowling alleys in Everett: Evergreen, Glacier, Tyee. But Strawberry Lanes has been her primary spot for years and the site of her highest-scoring games — around 200 — but only a couple of times.
“The last one was three or four years ago,” she said.
In those days, she threw a 14-pound ball, but she has downsized in recent years.
Over the decades bowling, Tomita has competed as a team member in regional tournaments, including some in Boise, Las Vegas, Reno and Spokane.
“No more now, we’re all too old,” she said.
Tomita has diabetes and macular degeneration, which blurs her vision. When she steps up to bowl, she’s throwing based on muscle memory, the feel of the lane. If she doesn’t get a strike and pins are left standing, a teammate or friend tells her which pins are left. The rest is up to her.
“Now she’s totally memory-bowling, just point her in the right direction,” Watanabe said.
June Rhinehart is one of Tomita’s friends at Strawberry Lanes. The Snohomish woman takes her to the bowling alley twice a week during the senior league season, which only takes a break in summer. On Wednesday, she was one of the three other bowlers sharing a lane with Tomita.
“It’s really a social thing, especially with the whole COVID thing,” Watanabe said.
A brand new neon green bowling pin was set up for people to sign as a memento for Tomita. Signatures covered it.
“All these people bowling, we’re all friends,” Tomita said. “There’s not one I don’t like.”