Bingo came to Branch when I was about eight years old. It was introduced by a newly arrived Roman Catholic priest who was determined to acquaint parishioners with the 20th century way of fundraising.
My mother came home from visiting her cousin one night with the news of this newfangled game. I couldn’t wait for the upcoming Fall Fancy Fair so I could try my hand at winning a prize. Need I emphasize that bingo in 1955 was a far cry from the modern version. Compared to the bingo sheets, coloured ink dabbers and flashing electronic boards of today, my first bingo experience took place in the Dark Ages. I was given a small numbered cardboard square and a handful of uncooked beans with which to cover the numbers.
What a fiasco. With many eager players sitting elbow to elbow at a long table, it didn’t take much to set the beans rolling. Understandably, the unfortunate act of sneezing or coughing was socially unacceptable among patrons. One was almost afraid to breathe. Heaven help you if you happened to be the one who caused a player to lose the chance of completing a straight line or covering four corners, no matter that it only cost a nickel to play.
Once the bingo caller began, the gambling pastime became serious business. There was booty to be won, stuff like bowls and pots, towels and face cloths, and even a box of chocolates or a tin of biscuits. Once I went home proudly with a blue brush for scrubbing the toilet. Unfortunately, we did not have indoor plumbing but I think the brush was used on Sundays to clean out the big dinner boiler.
I vividly recall one incident that occurred during the first year of bingo initiation. The local hall was crowded with participants. One gentleman had partaken of a few too many swallows of something potent and he mistakenly covered the wrong number. When he was informed that O-66 had not been called, he staggered up to the prize table, took a covered saucepan and shouted “Bingo or a good row!”
With this parting remark he walked out the door with the piece of cookware in his hand. Naturally, nobody confronted him. After a brief hush, followed by a wave of murmurs and tut-tuts, the game resumed and someone else won another inexpensive kitchen utensil or a plastic ornament. The earlier episode was just one of those little distractions which provided us with something to talk about for a few days.
Despite such growing pains, parish bingo survived and it wasn’t long before we were all familiarized with new-style cards and more interesting ways of winning. People tired of playing for household items and trinkets. Soon, the promise of money was the only thing that could guarantee a successful fundraiser. Although I never did become a bingo fan, I’m glad I had the opportunity to be part of its onset during my childhood years. This is the stuff of which great memories are made.
— Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s. She is a retired teacher who lives in Placentia where she taught for almost three decades. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org