One of my all-time favorite Alice Flynn memories stems from an event that took place when I was sound asleep. And while I did not witness this incident unfold, my mother’s amusing account the next morning created a recording in my mind that I can replay whenever the mood strikes. It’s so classic my mother that I smile whenever I think about it.
On a Wednesday night back in the late 1970s, my mother won the $500 jackpot at a Bingo game held at a Catholic church in the next town over. She came home so excited that she scattered all her winnings on top of my father asleep in their bed, sort of like rose petals but better. “It probably wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did. But boy he got out of bed quick,” my mother recently quipped.
My mother likes to gamble. She will be the first to admit it. She’s not reckless (in fact she’s probably the opposite), but she likes to win whatever prize is up for grabs. Her mother also liked to gamble, and I have vivid memories of my Nana Kelly having no qualms about taking all my pennies in family poker games despite my quivering lip. My mother’s strategy toward games of chance of any kind is simple: Think positive. She expects to win, and very often she does.
On her first trip to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, she won more than $900 from a crooning Elvis Presley slot machine that landed on three matching gold records. My parents almost missed the Knights of Columbus bus back home to Cape Cod while waiting for their payout.
But it’s not just gambling in the traditional sense. She once won round-trip airline tickets to anywhere in the United States from a raffle fundraiser run by the high school Boosters. (They went to San Diego.) At a church holiday fair, she bought a chance on the most beautiful wooden dollhouse you have ever seen in your life. Inside, the rooms were exquisitely decorated, like an Ethan Allen showroom, with a four-poster bed, red leather sofa, pedestal kitchen table and pewter dishes. My sister Christine got the dollhouse for Christmas that year.
I share some of my mother’s wishful (perhaps delusional) thinking toward gambling. I expect to win and I really, really, really like to win. My best prize ever was winning two tickets to the Final Four college basketball tournament in 1994, as part of a promotion with WBCN at a restaurant/bar near our house. When they drew the piece of paper with my name on it, I started to shake. I really, really, really thought I was going to win. Earlier that day I had told my mother that we would probably miss Easter dinner because we would be in Charlotte, N.C., for the games. I sort of willed it into happening, or so I like to believe.
In my ongoing pursuit of living more like Alice, I recently invited three friends to gamble with me. Which is why this past Friday night, we went to the weekly Bingo organized by St. John the Baptist Parish in Salem. I called ahead and spoke with a kind woman named Marilyn and learned the games started promptly at 6:15 pm (doors open at 2 pm) and that the top potential prize for the progressive jackpot that night was $1,700. She wished us luck. I was feeling hopeful; that sum could really improve our family’s February school vacation week plans.
We stepped inside the florescent-lit bingo hall around 5:30 p.m. I thought I would remember the drill from the one or two times I played Bingo in my early 20s with my aunts and my mother. Not so much. Nice older ladies seated behind a long table immediately started firing questions at us: How many sheets do you want? Do you want the blue strips for the 50/50 game? Are you playing the Progressive Cover? How about the Quinella Double Bingo? It was a language we did not speak or understand. I asked one older woman what she would tell her daughter to do: She said she would tell her daughter to go home and not waste her money. I appreciated her honesty, but we were committed.
We bought our cards/strips, colored daubers ($1), some sodas and grabbed seats near the front. We found a few nice women nearby who took pity on us, and one, in particular, who took it upon herself to make sure we understood the many combinations of games. Before long we figured out the Coverall, Broken Picture Frame, and Number 7-to-Letter-Z games. But the Picnic Bench was tricky. I’m not quick enough to stamp only the numbers that fall into an area that would form a picnic bench base. That’s at least an intermediate skill.
What’s amazing is how some people can play 50 cards at once without batting an eye. With daubers in hand, they move up and down the rows, blotting with efficient precision. Many are very serious. We learned some don’t appreciate chit-chat. They line up their good luck charms in front of them, share salty snacks on paper plates, and sigh loudly when someone shouts “Bingo” from across the room. I suppose you should feel happy when someone else wins. But I kind of understood the chorus of collective disappointment. I may have even joined in.
Sadly, the night ended without any of us winning a penny. As my friend Julie pointed out, the odds were not in our favor because we played a lot fewer cards than everyone else. But we laughed a lot, maybe too much, considering some of the looks. Could Foxwoods be our next adventure?
Honestly, I‘m OK with the outcome. It wouldn’t have been fair if I won $1,700 at Bingo in January and then won the HGTV Dream Home in March. I have a good feeling about this one.