I recently saw a news segment about Bingo returning to popularity, and dare I say…hipness. The footage featured social clubs and lodges hosting BYOB, traditional Bingo tournaments. Hipsters were seated at long banquet tables with wine and beer bottles in the center. Bars hosting pop culture themed Bingo nights draw enthusiastic crowds ready to enjoy the old-fashioned game.
Nostalgia never goes out of style. Amid our ever changing, tech-crazed world, I think there is sort of a soothing quality to Bingo. It is rhythmic: listening for the call, scanning your card, marking the number, exhaling.
I was surprised to discover I was actually on the cutting edge of a trend, however with a bit of a twist.
Every Thursday afternoon at 2:00, Bingo is played at the health center where my Mother lives. A gentleman named Dave arrives to volunteer as the Bingo caller, and his girlfriend Rita helps players who need a little assistance. Dave and Rita are a great team, and add to the fun. The average age of the players is at least 80, and many have Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia.
On the Thursday afternoons that I am fortunate to be in my hometown, playing Bingo has become one of my favorite things to do with my Mom. It is good mental and social stimulation for her, and it is pure fun to be with this crowd.
This past December, I convinced my niece Sarah, an elementary school teacher enjoying her Christmas break, to join my sister and me for Bingo with Grandma. I’m sure she thought I was over-selling it, but she was a good sport and came along. The four of us settled in at a table, for our multi-generational girls’ day out.
Even before the first game began, we had somehow morphed into the sex and the city girls. There we sat: middle-aged Carrie and Charlotte, professional 30-something Miranda, and of course 82-year old Samantha. Each of us had 2 Bingo cards and a margarine container full of Tiddly Winks to use as markers.
The television characters Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha all lacked self-control in at least one area (men, food, drinking, clothing, purses and shoes) at some point during the series. The Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha seated at the Bingo table lacked self-control in stifling laughter.
Dave began his witty Bingo calling, custom-tailored for his geriatric audience.
Each number was repeated several times, while the players intently searched their two cards. Invariably, no matter how many times Dave repeated the call, at least one player asked, “What was it again?”
BINGO!! Charlotte handily won the Grand Prize for the 1st game. The Grand Prize box was passed to her. She carefully perused the assortment, which included lovely scented soaps, lotions and other gifty personal items. “Oooh!” she said as she dug to the bottom and proudly revealed her pick.
“Really? Seriously? A pack of Band-Aids?” Miranda said. She could hardly contain herself, laughing at Charlotte’s ridiculously nerdy pick.
BINGO!! Carrie won the 2nd prize in the first game, and thoughtfully chose a small box of Junior Mints: a prize to share with the table. True to the lore of Junior Mints, in the process of struggling to open the tightly glued little box, a waxy chocolate disc was launched into orbit. Miranda chased it as it bounced across the room.
B…12….B…12….Everybody’s favorite vitamin….B…12
Miranda, an experienced Bingo caller for the kids at school, thought she knew all the “Bingo Lingo.” The funny B12 call caught her off guard. Her self-control was crumbling.
Samantha was especially spunky, sparring with Dave and trading jabs, both with great amusement and affection.
Her uninhibited sense of humor was also on fire. You know Samantha, the innocent mention of a word like “balls” can result in a zinger.
The rest of the girls were stifling nervous giggles.
A player at a nearby table, impaired from an unknown ailment, spoke with a squeak that sounded remarkably like a cat saying, “Mew, mew, mew.” The unspoken fear among the girls was that Samantha would grow annoyed with the “mewing” and say so, or heaven forbid, imitate it!
O…66….O…66…Get your kicks…… on Route 66……..O…66
This call is magical, because while dementia may erase decades of memories, song lyrics are easily recalled.
Dave started off by loudly saying, “Flagstaff, Arizona”
From the a table in the other corner of the room came, “Don’t forget Winona”
Another resident added, “Kingman, Barstow”
Finally, “San Bernardino”
Eager to join in the fun, Carrie chimed in: “Winslow, Arizona” before realizing that she had the wrong song, artist and decade.
There was no need for Carrie to be embarrassed. The beauty of this group is the acceptance of cognitive shortcomings and forgetfulness. Anything goes, and most everything goes unnoticed, including a loud, unmistakable fart.
Maturity and self-control were fading quickly.
Rule-following, competitive Charlotte regrouped and focused on her game. It paid off. She had one Bingo after another. However, Carrie FORBID her from declaring them, and stealing a win and a prize from a resident. It was killing Charlotte. It was killing Dave, too. He repeatedly strolled by, checking Charlotte’s card saying, “If you’ve got it, just call it.”
Each of Charlotte’s undeclared Bingos made the game drag on… and…on. The Grand Finale, the “cover all” round was complete, just as Happy Hour was beginning in the adjoining sunroom.
Woohoo! The party was on the move! Samantha led the way.
Girls’ day was stretching into girls’ night.
In addition to the selection of beer and wine offered, Mai Tais were being served. This Happy Hour lacked cosmos and a cheese plate, but no one cared. There was lively conversation, and there were cheese curls!
The girls partied on, until 5:00…… p.m. that is, when suddenly without warning, and without saying “Goodbye” Samantha stood up, walked out of the sunroom, and sauntered down the long hallway.
Samantha had enjoyed enough time with the girls. It was time for dinner, and BINGO!…. yes, there was a fella she was hoping to run into.