While questions surrounding the whereabouts of A.J. Fryerson dominated conversation in the Valley, the routine of daily life forged ahead.
With no election or fire-breathing radio host to supply fodder for the town’s rumor mill, cooler temperatures served as a reminder summer was past and, hopefully, a calming breeze would soon take its place.
Autumn traditions were plentiful in the Valley. As the ladies of the Auburn Hat Society busily made plans for the upcoming fall festival, anticipation surrounding the impending weekly bowling league added to the excitement.
Our small town didn’t have a lot of opportunity to excel in the arena of athletics. A few hardy outdoorsmen relished the onset of winter. But most folks looked on the weather as a reason to explore indoor activities.
And Ever since Valley High merged with West Central to form Central Valley High School, there’s not been a lot to root for in my hometown. Sure, we had our elementary school kickball team and the church softball league, but no sporting event brought as much excitement as fall bowling.
The adults never wanted to answer our questions about it, but every teenager in the Valley had heard rumors concerning the huge fight that took place years earlier at a league game between the Valley King Pins and the Pleasant Hill Strike Force.
The story took on epic proportion over time. As did other groups of local youth, my friends and I would share each tidbit we could piece together concerning "The Legend of King Pin Alley."
Each version of the story tried to one-up the others. Some included wacky stories of UFOs, knife fights or an earthquake.
All included some narrative where Elbert Lee Jones, a couple of decades younger and sprier, had heated words with at least two members of the Strike Force squad.
My friends stuck with what we knew for certain. There was a game between the teams. Whether caused by an earthquake, as some believed, a wind blowing through a back door, or some other natural cause, the game-winning pin fell to the floor in a mysterious manner, giving Pleasant Hill the victory and Elbert Lee more than he could take.
Truth be told, some gravitational force from all the folks swaying this way and that as the pin teetered could also have influenced its position.
Jones, convinced some "home-cooked shenanigans" were to blame, responded in a way none of our parents would share with their innocent children. It was years later before I knew the real story behind the legend.
While Marvin Walsh served as guest host of "Renderings with Raymond" (he continued to use the show’s original name in honor of his fallen comrade) on Thursday, he reminded his listeners the Pleasant Hill "Strut Force," as he liked to call them, would be facing the King Pins on Saturday at 6 p.m.
It would be the first meeting between the teams, he reminded his listeners, since the "incident" 20 years earlier. That was as much as he had to say about the legend.
As the Auburn Hat Society met to finalize plans for the festival, just two weeks away, they listened while Marvin urged loyal citizens to make their way to Valley Lanes to watch our beloved King Pins take on the Strike Force in the two center lanes. The remaining two lanes, he reminded listeners, would be shut down during the contest.
Helen Walker was the first to speak about the upcoming bowling match.
"I wonder," she said in her gentle voice, "who will take A.J.’s place on the team."
"Well, Earl thinks," Rhonda Goodman chimed in, "A.J. is hiding and will show up as a last-minute surprise just before the game begins."
"Heavens," whispered Vera Pinrod, just loud enough for everyone to hear. "That’s a lot of trouble just to surprise the other team."
"Yes," answered Rhonda, "but remember what happened last time."
It was agreed to turn off the radio and discuss other matters.
"I think we all agree that the ‘turned cider’ incident should never happen again," Vera said loudly.
"I suppose," answered Becky Jane Geary, "but it sure livened up the bobbing for apples."
As Vera discussed cider and Marvin railed against the conniving Strike Force, Iris Long sipped coffee alone at the Hoffbrau.
Filling Iris’s cup, Jessie asked, "What do you think happened to A.J.?"
"I wish I knew," answered Iris. "I really wish I knew."
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