MARYSVILLE — It took a pandemic to keep her away from the bowling alley.
Otherwise, Carol Perry would celebrate her birthday with her pin pals at Strawberry Lanes.
She turns 102 on Tuesday.
She scored 159 in her last weekly league meet before the lanes were forced to close mid-March in an order shuttering recreation venues.
Witnessing Perry’s agile maneuvers and youthful laugh, you might be tempted to ask to see her driver’s license to verify she really is that old.
A gold chain rims her neck above the collar of the navy bowling shirt. Hoop earrings shine through her thick white hair styled in a shag cut.
She scoops up her blue swirled ball, swings back her arm and flings the 9-pound weapon spinning down the lane.
Eight pins tumble. The mechanical grate comes down to sweep away the carnage.
She waits, not so patiently.
“It takes forever for the balls to come back,” she said, pacing by the return tray.
Another frame, her hurled ball leaves one pin wobbling.
“Go down, you devil,” she mutters, with a glint of a smile.
Not this time.
She threw two strikes in a row in the later 159 game. Her three teammates each had to put two dimes in the “nickel pot” for those frames.
But she was still a point or two shy from total bliss.
“My son beat me by one pin,” she said. “I want to win. It’s fun, win or lose. But it’s more fun with winning.”
Her son David and daughter Kathy are on her team.
Perry bowls in a regular league, not a senior league.
“Like my mom said, ‘I don’t want to bowl with those old people,’” she said.
Her mom only bowled until she was in her 70s.
Perry is the second-oldest of 20 kids. Six are still living.
This isn’t her first pandemic. She was born during the 1918 Spanish flu that infected 500 million people. That one didn’t stop her.
This one has kept her from bowling.
“I miss the people. I miss throwing the ball, too,” said Perry, who lives with her daughter. “I’m housebound, and just about going goofy with nothing to do.”
Maybe her kids will give her a Nintendo Wii console and bowling game for her birthday. They could use the nickel pot haul of about $300 that they divvy up when the league ends in the fall.
Perry is in charge of rolling the coins and taking them to the bank. She still drives, unless it’s dark. Her license is valid until 2024.
For years, Perry bowled in leagues for women and with her husband, Wayne. He died in 1995.
Around town, she runs into “the girls” she bowled with over the years. “They’re not bowling, but I am.”
She has downsized to a TZone Indigo Swirl Brunswick ball.
It’s “only” 9 pounds, she said.
“I’ve gone from a 12-pound to a 9.”
It has been a gradual progression.
“You buy one and can’t throw it anymore so you get a lighter one. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I can’t pick that thing up and throw it.”
Well, she could get an 8-pounder.
That would add insult to injury, which didn’t deter her from bowling four years ago.
“I got my shoulder scrunched in an elevator,” she said.
Those on other teams at Strawberry Lanes take note when she’s up.
“For her age she’s pretty damn good,” bowler Trevor Levinsky said. “I like to watch.”
Perry pulls off some wicked spares.
“I picked up a split the other night,” she said. “You get a free game.”
Her best game?
“I was sicker than a dog and subbing on somebody’s team and I bowled a 258,” she said. That was back when John F. Kennedy was the U.S. President.
She’s still chasing a perfect game when the lanes reopen in mid-April, maybe.
“I won’t die,” she said, “until I get a 300.”