Senior Citizen Bingo: They Play for Keeps

Have you ever spent the day playing Bingo with 25 people over the age of 75 on the medical side of an assisted living facility? If not, I’ll let you in on just what you’re missing.

Me, my mom and my grandma and are pretty close—three generations of Polish snark not lacking authenticity or attitude—for better or for worse. Gram’s at a home half a mile from my house, my mom goes to see her every day and I generally go once a week.

She’s been getting a lot worse the past couple of years—dementia—and now at 92 the “fun” times are few and far between. But there was a time when if we could plan it correctly, we would be there for the daily activity held in the activity room.

I’ll set the scene:

It’s four people to a table, two cards to a person, one bowl of Bingo chips for each player. Wheelchairs are locked and they’re ready to roll.

This seems innocent enough, but let’s get one thing straight. These people have been through wars, marriages, children, deaths, Depressions and depressions. Now they no longer worry about recessions as much as they do if Gertrude next door stole the extra Nutter Butter from their snack tray last Thursday.

They’ve got nothing to lose and they play for keeps. Or rather, they play for candy, which along with popcorn, is the geriatric equivalent of crack.

The activity director—a small, demure blonde girl with a huge heart—will call out the numbers like an NFL quarterback calling a play.

“B 14,” the caller will say. “B one four.”

Someone will ask “before what?” while at least two others will mistake “B14” for something either in the “N” column or as a directive to complain about the fact that it was supposed to be beer and popcorn night.

More numbers will be called and silence—save for a few rogue coughs or bodily functions—will blanket the room. This is either due to the fact that concentration is required for placing each chip, or that half of them have forgotten what they’re doing.

“O 63,” the caller will say. “O six three.”

Madge, sitting right next to the caller, will ask her what was said. This will be repeated after every number called, annoying Gram who will passive-aggressively express this annoyance with a Morse Code of exasperated sighs and Polish cursing.

I will have to remind her that Mary is 100 years old, to which Gram will reply that after 100 years, she should know her way around a goddamn Bingo card.

Leona will win twice in a row, pretty much guaranteeing evil glares and a public shunning by the women until she repents in some way—throwing a game or throwing a hip—to get herself back in good graces.

This might sound harsh, but remember, candy is at stake.

After each triumphant “Bingo!” is called, my mom will distribute that candy by prancing around the room with a tray like an old-fashioned cigarette girl in a bar. (With the exception of June, who will be given a pudding cup if she’s fortunate enough to win, as she is unfortunately on a puree diet.)

The winner will go one of two ways—either directly for the junk food jugular by grabbing their favorite chocolate-covered treats, or the less manic route, pondering this decision as if a Twix is the last thing they will ever eat in their life.

Which, to be fair, just might be true.

After everyone’s told that their cards must be cleared, the next round of play will begin.

“G 55,” the caller will say. “G five five.”

Mary will ask what was said, Gram will sigh heavily enough to move Julia’s card across the table and Leona will hide the fact that both of her cards contain G55. Out of nowhere Richard will ask where the beer and popcorn are and where the waitress went.

I will remark that a beer sounds good, at which point Gram will remind me that if I wasn’t so picky, I could be out drinking beer with a nice man like Richard or the maintenance man who hung the shelf in her room last week.

I will have to remind her that Richard  is 94 years old and the maintenance man was actually a very butch woman, to which Gram will reply that after 30 years, I should lower my standards.

O66,” the caller will say. “O six six.”

But then I would miss all the fun. 

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25 responses to “Senior Citizen Bingo: They Play for Keeps

  1. I found this post to be humorous, but also, extremely true. As part of a traveling choir for my church I am almost always going to a home near by. All patients in each home have their routine for each and every event. I personally love going and sitting with people at the home. Thanks for an enjoyable post!

  2. HAHAHAAH…she should know her way around a goddamn bingo card. That is priceless.

  3. This was hysterical…. Laugh till you cry funny…… I’m telling mom Sunday :-p

    Thank you!

    Kellianne Starr

  4. And people try and tell me this stuff is not funny……… sure as hell is! Thanks Abby, great post!

  5. OMG-laughed out loud all the way through your blog-hysterical, but totally true-I worked as a nurse manager on Alzheimer units for over 20 years-your post brought back great memories-thanks

  6. Too funny, Abby. 🙂

  7. This was much needed comic relief. Today, my dad-in-law told the doctor it was 1958, I cried when my husband told me.

  8. Sounds like they are living in the moment, and that is all any of us has.

  9. This was hilarious, and sounds exactly like bingo night my Nana’s nursing home. Though I think they might have better prizes… Socks! My Nana likes to save them to give to me.
    I asked my Nana (who is 100 and a half) a little while ago if she could find people in her home to play Euchre with her and she was like “EUCHRE?! Most of these people don’t even know where their room is, they can’t play Euchre!” But they sure can still play Bingo…

  10. My dad was the guy who called the numbers at church bingo for years. This brought me down memory lane.

  11. Okay so here’s the deal…

    When the times comes which it inevitably will I am calling Grams here and now.

    I get to be her and you can be Gertrude.

    This is a non-negotiable call of destiny.

    I absolutely adore this historical recount of events. One day we will all be here and I strive to be as bad-ass as these women are right now.

    Amen 😉

  12. Man, there’s nothing better than a bingo smackdown.

  13. Too cute and fun, I could never get my peepaw to go with me to play BINGO when I would visit, so now my curiosity is quenched! 😉

  14. In college we had to volunteer – I did at a senior citizen home calling bingo once a week for months on end. This has just given me PTSD.

  15. Nothing like Bingo in a retirement/assisted living place. Do not even suggest they miss a session and chat instead as you came a long way…Move it or lose it with toes in front of the wheel chair.
    Really enjoyed the post.

  16. I’ve never seen anything more intense then when I watch my grandmother play bingo.

  17. This is too funny. I volunteered at a nursing home when I was in high school and this post pretty much sums it up!!!

  18. OMG! I’m surprised I didn’t wake my husband up on the second floor, I was laughing so hard! Your Gram is priceless!

  19. You could have written this post about my Nan. She is slowing down these days both mentally and physically but at 95 I feel she is entitled too. It is just me and her against the world and I spend as much time with her each week as I can. I can’t imagine a world without her but it is a cold and brutal truth that I try my best to ignore while I still can. She is amazing and I hope I am at least half as active and sharp when I get to her age.

  20. Hilarious!

  21. Haha. I’ve played bingo with old people before, and I have to say, you portray it very accurately.

  22. Ok, so I absolutely adored this post. The writing was fantastic with so much wit and sass all in one place, the Home.
    I also have a special place in my heart for Bingo and still hear Fred, the little old man call out Foooorty, every time the number was played, whether he had it or not.

  23. I laughed out loud more than once reading this post. This is partly because I’m living the dream. My 85 year old mother moved in with my family earlier this year, and the repetitions and miscommunications are many. Sometimes it feeds my sense of humour, and sometimes it tests it;) Thanks for the laugh!

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