March 17 would have been my Mom's 90th birthday and to celebrate several of us are going to play Bingo at various locations. I'm sure for many people the afternoon or evening at a Bingo hall would not qualify as a memorial event, but for us it is that and more.
One of my early childhood memories is of my Mom (and whomever was around the house) playing televised Bingo on Saturday afternoons. The local Kinsman Club had a TV Bingo game with a prize of $3,000 and the catchy name of Kingo Bingo. At that time (the 1970s), this was a considerable amount of money -- this was when a new car cost around that sum. Bingo cards were purchased at various merchants -- in my hometown it was generally one of the local pharmacies -- back when drug stores still sold cigarettes and other instruments of vice.
In those days, we would pull out the TV trays and set up our Bingo cards, using pens to cross out numbers as they were called. Mom would have a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee nearby. Although I got to play a card or two, if one ever turned out to be a winner, I knew Mom would be the one phoning the station to call "Bingo". We didn't need to worry about that. In all those years, we never won.
Sometime in the 80s, Bingo Halls began to open in various locations. They were staffed by a handful of paid employees, but the real workforce was made up of volunteers from various organizations in the community. The clubs, sports teams and service organizations were able to make some money and the Bingo Halls were run as not-for-profit businesses. Mom discovered "Winners Bingo" in the nearby town and she was hooked. Roadtrips were frequent occurences with whomever was in town getting brought along for the fun. My next older sister first went with Mom when Mom was visiting my sister. My sister took along a book to read, believing she would not be playing. Rules being what they are, she had to play in order to sit at the table with Mom. My sister won her first game and the rest, as they say, was history. She was pretty much hooked.
Before long, going to Bingo whenever we were together became a family thing. Before the government decided that 'children' shouldn't be allowed to gamble, anyone over the age of 12 was brought along and initiated into the family tradition. When I married Renfrew, his mother would join our Bingo adventures. It became a family bonding ritual at its best.
Occasionally someone would win, but just spending a few hours together, was enough of a prize for me. Stories were shares, memories were made and community groups were supported. It was a win/win situation.
Before smoking was outlawed in public places, Bingo was a complete sensory experience. We would, of course, sit in the "non-smoking" section, which was somewhat like the "non-peeing" section of a public swimming pool. Mom had quit smoking before we began the Bingo tradition, but my still-hooked sister and nieces would scramble to the smoking area between games. I'm not sure why as I am pretty convinced we were all maintaining a pretty high level of nicotine just by being the hall.
In the last few years of my Mom's life, Bingo kept her active and busy. She would drive her friends to the local Bingo hall and they would spend the afternoon or evening visiting and playing. It was always great to go along as she took great pleasure in introducing her daughters and granddaughters to her friends.
So this Saturday my sister, niece and I will raise a Bingo dauber in honour of My Mom. Who knows, maybe her spirit will nudge the right balls out of the machine and we'll even get to yell "BINGO".