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Bingo: Ill-gotten games and free chicken dinners

When my moment in the sun arrived, I missed it. Thinking back, I picture everything in amazing detail. I hear the sound of crinkling paper and the thumps of daubers smacking against foldout tables.

I see the red circle of ink drying on the numbered square, and I remember the perfect symmetry as the line of red circles appeared on my sheet to form an , which was the pattern I was chasing.

I also remember two other people, or should I say opponents, shouting out the magic word: “Bingo.”



I, however, stared at my bingo sheet with an expression that resembled closely the one President Bush wears when asked about anything other than the soon-to-come war with Iraq. It was kind of an I-need-to-go-No. 2-badly-thank-you-very-much gawk.

And that look stayed plastered to my face until my mom, one of my three partners at the monthly Park County Recreation Center bingo fund-raiser, smacked my arm. Actually, she beat on me several times while shouting “Yell bingo, yell bingo,” before my poor never-before-bingoed brain realized I had won.



Even as the pain of Mom’s enthusiasm sank in, I was having a hard time believing my good fortune. When it comes to gambling, you see, and especially bingo, there has never been a check in my win column.

Which leads me to believe I’ve inherited my luck, if luck can be genetically passed down from one generation to the next, from my grandma.

Grandma loved to gamble, and in particular she loved playing bingo. Every Saturday night, she could be found at the local Catholic church, 15 bingo sheets spread out in front of her, bingo dauber (a thick, pen-like tool used to mark a bingo space) flying down rows of numbers.

The woman could keep up this incredible bingo pace for hours, and I believe, over the years, she developed the hand-eye coordination of a fighter pilot from playing the game.

Unfortunately, that was about all she got out of her years at the bingo tables.

The woman never won. Well, that’s not entirely true. She consistently won chickens. So many in fact that bingo/chicken jokes became a mainstay of humor at many of our family gatherings.

About every Saturday night, Grandma would come home with a frozen chicken, which then would become Sunday dinner. My grandpa was fond of saying that if he had all the money she lost winning chickens, he would have retired several hundred years earlier.

When we were young, my brother and I spent many summers with my grandparents, and during our stays, we were allowed to tag along with Grandma on bingo nights.

Even though we took home a lot of things from those bingo nights, the most important thing being the chance to spend time with Grandma, I never won a dime. Until my recent experience, my losing streak had run for years.

When I won, I was so stunned, it took me a while to work up the courage to finally yell “bingo.” When I did, however, no one was listening because two other people had also won.

So I took my sheet to the caller for verification, and I walked away with my $10 prize.

I treated my family to KFC.

My winnings, however, weren’t enough to cover the tab.

When columnist Andrew Gmerek isn’t playing bingo, he writes in this space on Fridays from his home in Fairplay.


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