Death of a feather bowler

Scenes from a city, beginning anew

The Irish wake, sitting shiva, the New Orleans jazz funeral – if people are bound in life, they will keep that bond when they send one another into the afterlife. So it was that on a recent December night, the Thursday league feather bowlers at the Cadieux Cafe on Detroit’s east side said farewell to Farmhouse Steve Gosskie, 46, their “holy wild man” whose flame burned bright among them. He only played a few years, but well enough to earn a season championship. And he lived just down the street, in the house that gave him his nickname, one of the last structures standing from the ribbon-farm years.

But first, a word about feather bowling.

The Cadieux Cafe  sits in the heart of what was once Detroit’s Belgian neighborhood, and it’s a testament to how polyglot and diverse the city once was that Belgian immigrants gained enough critical mass to actually have one. League member Jerry Lemenu, “three parts Flemish, one part Walloon,” says feather bowling was one of many Belgian sports played in the streets and alleys around Cadieux Road. Players roll flat-sided wooden balls down a sloping dirt alley and try to land them as close as possible to an upright pigeon feather at the end.

It’s a game that requires more skill than athletic ability, and Gosskie was able to play until the cancer was nearly finished with him. It’s also a game that goes well with beer, and the Cadieux serves Hoegaarden, Chimay, Stella Artois and other Belgian brands. For Gosskie’s sendoff, players lined the alley sides and everyone who wanted to say a few words did. “He embraced this place, and we embraced him,” Lemenu said. His love of The Who was mentioned. Someone wore the signature top hat he favored. And then, after all the words were said, the glasses of dark Belgian beer were raised, and from one end of the alley, a single ball was thrown. Straight and true it rolled toward the feather, and when it reached it, another member stopped it with a foot ‒ a perfect shot (with a little help).

The cry went up: “Op de plium!” On the feather! Everyone had a swig, and the game went on. ‒ Nancy Derringer

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Comments

Mike
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 9:40am
We should all be remembered so well by our friends, families, and peers! Great story!
Ben
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 12:35pm
Wonderful tribute!
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 9:54am
Reading this made me feel like I was right there with the tribute-makers. Thank you, Nancy. Perfect.
Thu, 12/11/2014 - 8:40am
Wonderful word portrait, Nancy. Brief and evocative. And you got to use "polyglot." Enjoyed the read.
chuck gehrke
Sun, 12/14/2014 - 9:55pm
Great read and a wonderful tribute. Born and raised on the east side and drove by the Cafe many times . Brings back memories of many years ago.