She is 58, short and stocky, with the color of iron in her hair and a plain way of talking. Next month, Margarette Uncles will take the first plane trip of her life and take it to Los Angeles, where she will be inducted into The National Bowling Association Bowling Hall of Fame.
Which is almost, but not quite, as good as the night she bowled a perfect game, that's 12 strikes in a row, and that's as good as it gets.
But right now, it's 9:30 at night at the University Fairlanes in College Park, time for the announcer's voice to cut in and close the lanes to everything but League Play and League Play Only, time for Margarette Uncles to take her place in her world, time for the tedium of the day to die without notice and time for the scraping sound of getting by and making do to disappear in the great gritty noise of te night's play.
The noise crashes all around her, the sound of the heavy balls mowing down the pins is like thunder breaking, and the smiles and frowns and looks of disbelief flash like lightning across the players' faces. Talk is fast and movement constant and Uncles doesn't miss a moment, she just laughs her gravelly laugh and catches the curl of the camaraderie and rides it back to shore.
Tonight the Pinpoppers are playing Alias. Each team is made up of two men and two women. Uncles is the captain of the Pinpoppers, a name that has served through the years as the name of more teams on which Uncles has played than she can remember. "Oh Lordy," she laughs, "I've been carrying that name for so long, 10 years or more. Seems like forever."
She started bowling back in 1945 and she started with duckpins. It was her sister-in-law's idea and the reason she started, she says, is the same reason she stuck with it. "Didn't have anything else to do. It's all the recreation I have."
It's easy to come up with a sociology of bowling, a Soc. Sci. 101 -- in which the student examines the sweet satisfaction of knocking the hell out of those alabaster pins and sees the face of frustration in each and every one of them, imagining a perfect paradox between the complications of this crazy life and the straight and narrow of those gleaming, unambiguous lanes.
But that's now how it is for Margarette Uncles, or for her teammates -- shy Walter Connor, impeccably dressed and quiet, exuberant Walter Tucker, a Metro bus driver who laughs as hard as he plays, and serious Helen Brooks, who brings an earnest dignity to her game.
That's not the way they see it, and, after all, who should know better?
"It's just fun, that's all it is and that's enough," says Uncles. "Some people take it so serious, take it like it's a job. It's not like it used to be, you used to have more fun. It seems like the generations coming up are more competitive."
Still, in Uncles' day, it was competitive enough for her to represent Maryland in The National Bowling Association's All-Star World Tournament in Miami one year and to become the first woman in TNBA to bowl a game with a perfect 300 score. These were the kinds of accomplishments that won her one of six places in TNBA's Hall of Fame this year, the only woman to be selected in this, the Hall of Fame's first year.
Uncles used to bowl five times a week and maintain an average of 183, but that was before the arthritis set in and the cost of the game began to climb. "At first I thought there was something wrong with the ball," she says of the time when she began to lose control of her game. "Turns out it was me." She stays at home now, the nights she doesn't bowl, and goes to bed early. Now she only bowls on Tuesdays and nothing has taken the place of the other nights and other leagues.
But there were high times for a long time, there were tournaments and trophies. There were 70 trophies in fact, and now they spill out of the trophy closet of her home in Silver Spring, out onto the living room floor and into the dining room, capturing the top of the china closet and the buffet. "Wish I had cash for every one of those trophies," she says with an admirable attempt at gruff indifference. But the pride comes shining through, gleaming like the precious metal statuettes. "Everyone tells me I've just about done everything a woman can do in this game," she says, and she smiles.
Margarette Uncles was married once, for about six years, but that doesn't even rate a spare in her conversation. There weren't any children -- "I just take care of other people's kids." That's what she does for a living. What she lives for is bowling and what she wants to talk about is the day she bowled her perfect game.
"It was June 24, 1966," she says. "It was at the Town Center lanes that used to be at 4th and M SW. It was a little after 9 o'clock. I just kept throwing the ball down and it kept going into the pocket and I would get the strike. Pretty soon everybody would get quiet when it was my turn and the fellows would say, 'you can talk, Margarette can bowl when you talk,' but they all got quiet just the same. I had it in my mind that if I could get eight strikes, then I would win $300, but then I got two more and then two more. And the fellows whooped and hollered, they grabbed me and they kissed me. I was so excited I couldn't believe it. I had to have two beers afterward, it surprised me so."
She won a Samsonite suitcase, and an onyx ring with a diamond in it that she still wears and a set of carving knives. She won a moment of perfection to call her own, and that, ofcourse, is winning quite a lot.
She is asked if she was born and raised here, "here" being indicated by a wave of the Washington hand to include not only suburban Maryland but the city and its surroundings. She answers no, she's not from here, she was born in Brightwood, which is located off Missouri Avenue in the District.
But at the University Lanes, life loses boundaries and borders and the range of age and occupation is as great as the distance between the wince that accompanies a gutter ball and the small strut of joyous triumph with which the victor leaves the field of 10 prone pins.
"I like the diversity you get at a place like this," says Speedy, who is 23 and working for IBM and who is also known as Cleveland Altman Jr. "Nobody cares what they look like, nobody cares what they say." He has been bowling since he was 5 and now bowls with Alias, which is getting more or less beaten by the Pinpoppers.
It's Unlces' turn to bowl, and the arthritis seems to fly from her fingers and she lifts her 14-pound black ball mottled with swirls of gold and throws it down the lane. She stands there for a second on tiptoe, one arm flung back straight, the other unconsciously pushing the air in front of her as if to help the ball to is destination.
It's a strike, Uncles' face is pure, wide-eyed unadultered delight and Walter Tucker lets out a whoop. "You can't do no wrong." Uncles beams, and wipes her hands on her favorite drying towel, the one she won as a member of the 600 club for having bowled a minimum 200 average in two games out of an evening's three.
By evening's end, the Pinpoppers are contenders for first place in their league, although Uncles is giving herself bad reviews.
"I couldn't bowl nothing last night," she says the next day. She says it with a laugh. Bowling, in the end, isn't even the half of it.