Ages: 78 and 77
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
I have played in Scrabble tournaments in large convention centers (where the North American Scrabble Championship often takes place), in hotel ballrooms, and in community centers and private homes. This last tournament took place at The Center, a nonprofit community gathering place devoted to the health and wellbeing of Charlottesville’s seniors. This is not another post about the tournament itself. I promise that there will be no recounting of my best plays or examples of when the tile gods conspired against me, giving me first a rack with all vowels followed by several racks with no vowels (okay, so I kind of contradicted myself, giving you an example in the very same sentence where I promised not to do so!). I used to reserve those highlights and rants for my dad, who would get a call on each day of a tournament with updates on how I was doing and what I did with a particularly challenging rack or a great bingo that I found… or more likely, one that my opponent played against me. I missed him acutely this past weekend, because I still have the instinct to call him, and then I realize that I can’t and it is like tearing off the Band Aid each time.
Instead of calling my dad, I spent my down time in between games sitting in the hallway of the senior center where the tournament was held. The Center hosts a slew of its own activities and also rents out its rooms, as it did to our Scrabble tournament. On Sunday morning, a room down the hall held a church service, its small congregation singing along to the lyrics displayed on a PowerPoint on the wall. There was also a baby shower, a room full of English country dancers (my personal favorite) and a showing of the movie Unfinished Song. The place was teeming with people, not all of them the senior citizens the Center primarily serves, and it was bopping.
Sitting at the front desk, greeting people and directing them to their various activities, were Mary Kirby and Barbara Allen. Mary started volunteering at the Center shortly after she moved to Charlottesville three years ago. “It is a great way to connect with the community,” she says. “It is such a great social outlet.” Noting that most of the people who frequent the Center during the week are widows, Mary says that much of her time is spent listening to or recounting stories. There are at least a half dozen programs, classes and events scheduled every day. Mary’s favorites are the Chair Yoga classes and the Short Stories book club, when that week’s assigned short story is read aloud and then discussed. And on Fridays there is bingo, with donated bread from Panera Bread and Pepperidge Farm Bakery down the street.
“We eat. we talk, and we play bingo,” Mary says. Sounds like heaven to me. Note to David… I will be scheming to synch our drives through Charlottesville with The Center’s Bingo moving forward. I love Bingo… and it has only a little bit to do with the fact that David won $3000 in the final coverall game the one time I was able to drag him to Bingo when we were dating.
I have not yet reached retirement age, but I know it is around the corner. (And if the cashiers at the grocery store and the movies who keep offering me the discounted senior rate have any say in it, I already look the part!) I don’t yet know where we will end up or what our retirement will look like, but I know this. I need to be social and I need to be busy. It warms my heart to know that there are thriving senior centers like this one, where a plethora of activities are offered and you can have a one-stop shop for being engaged in your community and continuing to learn and pursue new interests. And I have bingo to look forward to!