opal & the bingo cheat

Frankly, I could not believe my ears. Here was my 87 year old grandmother asking me to help her cheat at bingo in the common room of her retirement home. And she was serious, hissing at me to do as I was told for once in my life.

She had purposely seated me facing the caller. Her back was to the podium. The giant hat and the enormous pink feather boa further shielded the table top from prying eyes. Her long, boney, liver-spotted fingers pushed a stack of bingo cards across the table towards me. There were perhaps four or five in the stack. I quietly inquired as to the source of the contraband cards.

“I pilfered these last week,” she said with an air of glee in her voice. “You just play them normal-like and clear off the others if either of us call.”

Opal lowered her eyes to mere slits and waited for my response.

Now, given, it was no great stretch of the imagination to peg me as one who might fudge an occasional truth or bend the rules to breaking if it meant a mark in my win column. Complicity was to be expected when covering up a night of drunken debauchery with my running buddies or when packing the trunk full of bodies for a trip to the drive-in. One merely looks innocently skyward when handing over the fiver to a suspicious gate attendant. Play dumb and no one gets hurt. But such a request from my own sainted grandmother? It had me reeling for a more than a moment or two. In fact, it was quite the moral conundrum.

Participation in her scheme and being found out meant walking the halls forever more as a known grifter.

“There’s that awful man who stiffed me out of a potpourri box and a king sized Pay Day,” the little old lady said from a room on my right. I winced to myself as the rabid mob of graying vigilantes massed in my head and struck at me with their canes and walkers. I bolted for the exit, only to find the door attendant had sealed me in. She rocked back in her chair and smiled in silent satisfaction as I was swallowed up in the whirling snarl of wheel chairs and fuzzy slippers.

The image of frenzied revenge aside, these folks had done nothing to earn my contempt. That is, unless you count the Chicken ala King on toast I sampled one day. My family was trusting them to take excellent care of Opal, and in fact, they were succeeding. I paused, and in a rare moment of clarity, deduced that perhaps this bond of trust was indeed a two way street. Surely I needed no more black marks laid on my karma report card. So I decided to resist bending to my grandmother’s diabolical scheme.

“Opal, honey,” I began in the most soothing tone I could muster. “Now, you know I’d lay down in traffic for you, but you’ve put me in a hard spot. What if I get popped for running bogus bingo cards? Why in the world would you need to do such a thing anyway?”

She went on to explain that although she had no hard evidence, she was convinced through her own brand of geriatric espionage that a hall neighbor and fellow bingo aficionado had somehow snuck a doped horse into the weekly action. She began to suspect foul play after her nemesis claimed the big prize – a bag of bite sized Milky Ways – for the final game of the morning three weeks in a row.

I was able to deduce a barethread strand of reasoning that placed me as the instigator, led to chocolate, and ultimately kept her clear of any accessory. Her plan would produce fruit by one of two routes, she surmised.

1.) She succeeded in recruiting me in the flim-flam and together, we pulled off the greatest, most perfidious deception in the history of retirement home bingo and no one was the wiser. Or, 2.) Upon my discovery as a cheat, she would throw her hands up in shock and plead utter ignorance. The stress and embarrassment of the actions of such a cruddy grandson would surely motivate the staff to hand over the candy out of extreme pity. The rest of the residents would rally round her and commiserate with their own examples of cruddy grandsons, thereby washing her completely of sin.

……or at least that’s about as close as I could figure. The true motivation was hers alone and there was no twenty mule team handy to assist in the extraction.

So I sat with my single bingo card and played the game the way the good Lord intended while the slings and arrows of Opal’s disappointment ricocheted off my forehead. We marked off our respective B-6’s and I-22’s through several games, until finally, almost mercifully, the game officials set for the final round and paraded the Milky Way treasure before the wide eyes of the players.

Opal coiled slightly, like a swimmer called to marks for a freestyle sprint, and then focused upon the card in front of her. The game began and she was off to a cracking start, covering several boxes off the first half dozen draws. I drifted away from the game, more interested in creative ways to deal with Opal’s inevitable jabs, and missed the final chip fall on Opal’s card.

“Bingo!” she hollered.

One of the game monitors came over to confirm her play.

“Yes ma’am,” she said. “Miss Opal wins today. Well played.”

She placed the bag of bite sized Milky Ways into Opal’s outstretched hands. Aggravation with me suddenly morphed into gracious humility as she acknowledged the repetitive congratulations from her opponents. Never one to miss out on a public relations moment, Opal requested I open the bag and distribute one or two candy bars to each player.

A candy bar or two always smooths ruffled hackles. But only one or two, she counseled.

Grandma Opal and Mama
Malesus, TN., 1945


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