BINGO: A 'Love Letter'

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By John Deming, Atlantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News Friday, December 17, 2004

BING-OH! -- Hampton Senior play and win at Bingo game held in the Dorothy Little Room of the Lane Library. [Atlantic News Photo by John Deming]

HAMPTON -- So, you’re reading an article about Bingo and it’s largely written in the first person.

Walking into the Dorothy Little Room of the Lane Library at 1 p.m. on Friday was like walking into a grandparent’s house.

About four minutes after coming through the door I found myself seated at a card table with two plates of food — lasagna, veggie pizza, salad, Italian dressing, a roll — plus a can of Pepsi with an empty paper cup.

This would be a small sample of the friendliness and forwardness of the women who gather at the library to play Bingo each week.

Let the games begin.

“It’s like a social club,” said Florence Bellofatto. “We keep it as social as possible.”

The group of about 20, with their Bingo cards ($.50 each, two for a dollar) and ink daubers at the ready, began listening as Hampton Parks and Recreation Director Dyana Martin read the numbers.

“B-16.”

Sitting back and waiting for a winner, I poured the Pepsi from the can into the paper cup — perhaps unnecessarily — and took a bite of my roll.

“It’s always fun,” Martin said. “It’s a great group of people.”

Martin has been reading numbers at the weekly Bingo game for six years. When she began the program, it involved exercise: one hour of aerobics was followed by one hour of Bingo.

Now, the aerobics have been completely phased out, leaving a full two hours of ink-daubing and winning useful prizes.

“Bingo!” one woman shouts, raising her left hand.

She reads back her numbers, and stands up.

“Now to get one of our great prizes,” she jokes, and heads to the prize table. This week, it holds paper towel rolls, a stuffed Santa Claus, a stuffed frog, a classy dishtowel, and a “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” music box, among other items.

But it was always true as a child, I remembered, that playing Bingo was fun not for the prizes, but for the suspense of coming one square away. Though the game doesn’t seem to have changed much since then, in some ways it seems more elegant: for example, what did they mean by “love letter?”

“Love letter,” Martin announced. “That means the whole 'B’ column, the whole bottom row, and a stamp in the right-hand corner.”

A “stamp,” I assumed, meant the four squares in the upper-right hand corner.

There was also the “checkmark,” the “shotgun,” and everyone’s favorite grand finale — the “blackout.”

Why switch it up so much?

“That’s because we’re falling asleep,” one woman said. “We do that all the time to wake ourselves up.”

Another was more philosophical.

“These are the vicissitudes of life,” she laughed.

The back-and-forth banter persisted for the whole game.

“Hey, what do you expect — I’m old,” one woman announced, to be countered with “No, you’re not — I’m older than you.”

Another referenced me, sitting in the corner with a notebook on my lap, splashing the last of my canned Pepsi into the paper cup.

“He’s going to have to censor the article,” she said.

Rhyming with the numbers was also popular.

“G-53 — nothing for me.”

“H-21 — not the one.”

“I don’t have 35.” “It’s okay, you’re still alive.”

There was also soft resignation.

“I was close, but no bananas.”

But it’s not the paper towels and stuffed animals that have kept them coming back week after week, year after year, Martin said — it’s the camaraderie.

“They’ve really become my friends,” Martin said.

Though the group is mostly made up of Seniors — particularly women — Bellofatto said they would accept anyone who wanted to come play.

“It’s just a fun time,” she said.

More back-and-forth banter at the end of the game, just before I walked out to a booming array of waves and good-byes, included what sounded like disappointment.

“I guess I’ve got a lot to learn,” one woman said.

“That’s okay,” answered another. “We all do.”

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