Playing bingo on a weekly basis is more than just a game for Secaucus seniors: It’s a place to make friends and share memories. During a time when many church halls and community centers have stopped offering bingo, the Senior Center continues to offer two games a week – a place for friendly competition and celebration.
During a wintry Friday afternoon the last full week in January, around 30 seniors gathered at the Senior Center for many rounds.
Seniors listened to the whir of the numbered balls and the call by Johanna Sesko, a local volunteer and fellow player.
“N43, B15, 062, N39, B2,” rattled off Sesko. The corresponding number lit up on a board. Sesko often calls out numbers at the Tuesday games instead, but had switched with Joey Mitchell that week.
As numbers were called seniors stared intently at their cards and kept track of several at a time, swiping away when their numbers matched up.
“I23,” said Sesko.
“No, thank you!” shouted one player.
“N40,” said Sesko and the entire room said in unison, “40!”
“You meet a lot of people.” – Jenny Comforti
“065,” said Sesko.
“That’s an odd number,” said one player.
“I22,” said Sesko.
“Bingo!” said another player.
Murmurs went up throughout the room as some grumbled about the loss.
“I just get so close!” said one player.
“Game is closed with one winner!” announced Sesko.
The board cleared, the balls fell back in the bin, and the game was reset.
About halfway through the game play, the seniors gathered to celebrate a different number. The Senior Center staff brought out a sheet cake for all the individuals who celebrated a birthday during the month of January. Only one senior stepped forward that Friday to blow out the candles as everyone sang “Happy Birthday.”
“I won and everything,” said Birthday Girl Jenny Comforti. “Beginner’s luck, I guess.”
While she at first claimed she was, “39 again,” she later revealed she had turned 81 the day before on Jan. 24.
“It’s fun,” she said about playing bingo. “You meet a lot of people.”
The room was dominated by women, but that didn’t intimidate the few men who were in attendance.
“I like the ratio of women to men,” said Al O’Krinsky, who also said he was 39 when asked. He has been married 44 years and his wife Donna sat across from him during the game.
“They can have him!” said Donna.
Place to come together
As people drank coffee and ate cake, one grandmother took the opportunity to show pictures of her grandchildren. Others walked to other tables and sat down to converse with friends.
“I come every Tuesday and Friday,” said Marie DeMartine, 90, a lifelong resident. She has played bingo at the Senior Center the past 12 years. She said she returned time and again because she enjoyed “just being with the people.”
“You have to get out at this age,” said DeMartine. She shared that she had played bingo as a child and that she once used to play in church or at the local VFW, but those games are no longer offered. That day, she had already won big twice collecting $3 in one game and $4 during another.
“This is where we can all come together,” she noted.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.