The Bridge Players

On a certain Wednesday every other month, there would be a flurry of activity as my mother and I cleaned the house, hung guest towels in the bathroom, set up card tables and chairs in the living room, and put small bowls of peanuts and party mix on each table.

Coffee perked in the percolator. Sweet pink wine rested in the carafe. Small desserts sat on a serving plate next to the clear glass plates that included a saucer for the clear glass coffee cup that matched it.

It was my mother’s night to be hostess to her Bridge club.

It was probably the only time the guest towels actually got used by guests. Somehow, the ladies knew it was okay to use them.

Before I could drive, I would sequester myself in my room, which was right next to the living room, and listen to a low mumble of gossip (the good kind—here’s what’s happening in our lives) interrupted intermittently by a throaty voice of delight or regret.

Once I got my license, I would go to the library to study. I actually went to the library, but mostly it was to hang out with friends. A kind of a goody-two-shoes way out of the house. The bridge players would still be there when I returned, deep into the game, hardly acknowledging my re-entry.

The day after these games, they would talk about how they played the game, disbelief that they had made such a bad bid, pride that they had made a good play.

I came to associate Bridge with one of those things suburban housewives did in order to avoid the wider social problems of the Sixties that raged around them. At my slumber parties we talked about politics, religion, and books more than we talked about boys. I liked the intellectual stimulation of it. I liked that it was helping me form thoughts and opinions—thinking outside the suburban environment I lived in.

I never learned to play Bridge. It was my defense against becoming a suburban housewife.

It was much later that I learned that playing Bridge was not like playing Go Fish or Old Maid. It requires focus and concentration of intellect.

The women in my mother’s Bridge club were devoted to those Bridge nights. Bridge night at one’s house meant that everyone and everything else took second fiddle. It was the ladies’ night. Don’t eat the peanuts and party mix, don’t eat the desserts, and don’t use the guest towels, they’re for the Bridge club.

Bridge night must have been evenings when these women got to shed the persona of devoted-suburban-housewife-taking-care-of-everyone and reclaim themselves as individuals.

Over the years, either their conversations expanded, or I was just too young to see what was already there. Discussions about politics crept into the Bridge Club evenings. Soon it became clear that my mother and her best friend Marge were the only two liberals amongst them.

That did not lead to the demise of the Bridge Club.

Old age, infirmity, and death, did, however, finally disband it. It was Bobbie who became the first to leave. A widow, she lived alone and had fallen in her garage, where she lay for over a day with no way to call for help. She moved to be close to family who would take care of her.

Bobbie’s plight struck fear in the hearts of the Bridge Club. All of them widows, what happened to Bobbie brought it home that their fears weren’t just fears—they were vulnerable to the whims of life as an older woman living alone.

My mother was one of the last to die, but she died before Marge, leaving her bereft of friendship and a political ally.

Marge died a few years later. I helped her son, my friend Jim, tend to some of the details of her final days, provided him emotional support as needed. And so, he offered me the pick of the pictures she had painted that were left over from the estate sale.

I picked two. One, a wolf loping towards me through the snow. The other, four grey-haired women seated around a card table. Three hold cards in their hands, one has her cards turned up before her, her hands clasped in front of her. They all look intently at the card in the center of the table one is pointing to. A vase rests on a shelf behind them.

I don’t know what Marge titled it. I call it The Bridge Players. It hangs on the wall in my Writing Shed, to the left of the computer I write on.

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