A personal reflection

On memories from bridge club.

Israeli competitive bridge players celebrate a win at an international competition. (photo credit: ISRAELI BRIDGE FEDERATION)
Israeli competitive bridge players celebrate a win at an international competition.
Living in a retirement home, one has time to be observant and philosophical.
Watching people and life from this vantage point, one thing that sticks out is our penchant to play bridge.
My maiden aunts used to have bridge parties, but I was not interested. To me, they were just ladies sitting about chatting, drinking coffee and eating candy while looking at playing cards. Still, in college I was dragged into a foursome without knowing either the rules or the principles.
I eventually married my partner, who played better than me. Through our married life we played, though I was at a very mediocre level. I enjoyed it as a social activity with friends, mostly. I had no idea of the bridge business: clubs, rules and “conventions,” international organizations, cruises and worldwide meetings.
Time passed. Members of our bridge groups moved on. My husband and I moved to Israel, where we divorced; I passed the age of 60 and joined a senior center.
What’s the connection to bridge? At the center, I became a gymnastics instructor and was rewarded – not with money, but with an invitation to join the bridge club. At last I began to learn the basic and more advanced rules, so I began to enjoy the game and improve my playing.
I played there for some years until I moved to a retirement home, where bridge became a necessity for social, cognitive and total survival.
In fact, bridge is not simply a game played with cards, four suits or colors, and four players.
More than a game, it is a social activity, even a bond. Bridge creates a strong connection between the players in a foursome, though it’s sometimes not pleasant! You have to communicate with your partner. You have to speak the same vocabulary of rules and responses.
Besides, in this retirement home, it’s become a chronicle of friends with whom I played over eight years. Some remain good friends, occasionally one has left in a huff! Others have become ill, and either died or were hospitalized.
It has even led to romance. While I could not play at my friend’s level, we continued a friendship over the years. He has passed his 94th birthday and still continues to play very well; participating in a weekly bridge game with three groups of friends.
As I do a roll call of bridge partners, I think of Sue, an immigrant from Bulgaria, who was my first partner in the retirement home. We quickly became friends, but she had a serious stroke seven years ago and has been lying in a hospital bed ever since, unable to function or communicate. I gave up keeping in touch. After all, I had known her altogether one year. Her son is very disappointed in me and all of us, for not continuing to visit his mother.
My present partner, E., fondly recalls a very special bridge partner, Vera. She was an immigrant from Russia, a grande dame, Russian “nobility.” We played in her flat, as she had limited mobility. We celebrated her 100th birthday, and her only limitation was physical weakness.
Her mind was sharp to the last day we played, which was close to the day she died.
Mimi replaced her, and we played in her small flat as she had trouble walking. She and two of her longtime friends (who don’t play bridge) came together to live here. So often the mind holds up, but not the body.
Y. joined us after one of our members, Harriet, died. Y. played with us until we noticed he was losing weight and becoming weak. My partner reported he had a lady friend, but I discovered the lady was really a helper – for he could no longer handle daily tasks like shopping.
When he died, we missed him despite never knowing what his illness was. For us, bridge was a sort of business relationship.
After I got involved in this merry-go-round (or is it “London Bridge is falling down”?), I was reminded of my Aunt Lee. In my hometown of Milwaukee, she was the one who had organized those bridge parties. When I was told she was dying of cancer, I came from Israel to visit her.
I had limited income but it was very important to go, for she was a second mother to me for much of my life. (She also gave me totally misguided sex information just before I married.) To my surprise, with my intuition and knowledge of the effects of radiation, I realized she was not dying of cancer, but rather of malnutrition – for the chemotherapy had killed her appetite. So I began feeding her tablespoons of warm milk with honey every hour. Two weeks later, before I left for home, my aunt got out of bed, dressed, made us breakfast, sat with us and told me her plans: “I have to get back to playing bridge. I play with three foursomes but we are losing members through illness and death, so I have to fill in. I will start again this week, though it hurts me to sit.”
She lived four more years, carrying a pillow to the weekly bridge games so she would not disappoint her friends.
Today I play at least once or twice a week, but conditions and players change. One player is having serious vision problems. One had a spell of being unpleasant, as she wanted to be the leader. That is to say, the games go on as the players change.
I now play with a partner who is a good bridge strategist. However, she has serious memory problems and forgets to come, so I have to fetch her. It’s not clear that she will be able to play much longer.
Bridge, therefore, is not just a game at any time or age, per se. It’s a microcosm of life, and for me, an aspect of an aging society.
Some wins, some losses and some dropouts. But we still go on, from week to week.
The author has collected stories about her life with her deaf parents in her book, Between Two Worlds.