If I today were to write a back-to-school essay about “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” it would not be the story of swimming, camp or a trip. Instead, it would be about a summer decades ago spent at Southway lanes in Baltimore.

Southway, which had lanes on two floors, was above Steve’s grocery store. There were 36 steps leading up to the duckpin bowling alley. Once inside, the smell of freshly cooked hot dogs and pizza filled the air, as did that of well-worn bowling shoes.

Along with my cousins Bill, Norman and Lydia, I bowled on Saturday mornings. Our team was named The Holding Company because we liked the music of Janis Joplin. The owner of Southway erroneously noted the name as The Holden Company on the main wall’s wooden scoreboard. Whenever anyone asked about our team name, I said it was because we admired actor William Holden, though none of us knew who he was.

Our team, which was no stranger to gutter balls, finished in last place behind nine other teams. I earned a patch, which I still cherish, for bowling a triple strike.

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It is rumored that Babe Ruth bowled at Southway, which closed in 2000. My church, Saints Stephen and James Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was across the street, soon after held a special worship service to thank God for the past fellowship on Southway’s bowling lanes.

Pastor Lowell Thompson put just one hymn, “300″ (signifying a perfect bowling score), on the hymn board. He placed my bowling bag and a single duckpin on a small table in front of the altar.

“God’s presence was with us each time we bowled,” I said during the service, which featured testimonials from other bowlers, the majority of which had bowled on a Friday night church league at Southway.

Several men, women and children in the congregation wept during the service, knowing their beloved Southway would be gone forever.

The Southway location today is a development of loft apartments. Whenever I pass by it, I imagine I still hear the sounds of duckpins flying and still smell bowling alley pizza.

Mel Tansill, Catonsville

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