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Growing up, I remember my Grandmother’s love of bridge. She was a typical 1930’s young matron–wife of a successful young electrical engineer, so bridge went with the territory. By the time I remember, the late 1960s, she was the wife of a successful senior executive who traveled regularly to multiple foreign countries. Bridge, the country club, all that elitist, stuck-up “Eastern Establishment” stuff (as it was called back then) mattered.
There was a way to do a bridge party–whether hosting your regular bridge club for lunch or hosting an invitation only party. It could be for lunch, tea time, dinner or just desert and, in the evening only, could be a couples party complete with cocktails and dinner or coffee and desert. (By the way, where I grew up Euchre was done this way as well). Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway by Maggy Simony offers a fun look at the bridge club days. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal said about her book.
(Images: Ebay, Waneelo & Etsy).
My brother and I, or my cousin, would give our grandmother sets like this for Christmas–pretty playing cards and a score pad.
Card table linens, with matching napkins, were a big deal, too, though my grandmother wouldn’t have had the wonderfully colorful Florida one, unless someone in the group had given it as fun gift or she’d won it as a door prize perhaps.
Lunch was likely to be something like a tomato stuffed with tuna-chicken-egg–salad (one of those) served on a leaf of crisp ice berg lettuce. There’d be iced tea or, sometimes, iced coffee. This “frosted” sandwich loaf, which Buzzfeed recently and wrongly called awful, was a popular item, too, back in the day. It is not “frosted” with cake icing, but with cream cheese. It’s delicious.
Desert, always served with coffee, could range from simple cookies to a lavish desert. It was served on the hostess’s best desert plates or on card-themed desert plates. My grandmother always liked her “bite of sweet,” but in those years she had to “watch her figure.”
All the ladies carried these cigarette cases with the little lighter. Like cell phones today, they were always present. They matched her wallet and little change purse. The ash trays were also nut or mint dishes. A hostess often had a set for both.
I once accompanied my Grandmother to bridge club. Sadly it was memorable to me for two reasons: I couldn’t breathe from the cigarette smoke and I disgraced myself being too shy at 6 years old to ask for the bathroom. I do recall the ladies how was immaculate–something I still admire all these years later. Today I know she probably had a cleaning lady who came out on the train from Chicago certain days each week. The Help was like reading about my grandmother’s bridge club in a bad way.
In my Mom’s generation, the 1950’s, girls were said to major in “bridge” in college–her Purdue yearbook and photo album both show groups like the one shown here. The “girls” then graduated with their “MRS Degree,” and continued playing in bridge clubs of their own. My Mom, however, wasn’t big on that. You had to clean and talk about nothing. Neither were her thing.
Early in the 1970s we moved to a new town. Mom and Dad, in an effort to meet people, joined a Newcomer’s Club and took bridge lessons. Both had played in college, but needed some refreshing. To practice, they taught my brother and me the rudiments. Too much like math for me, but my brother later was proud of winning money off my grandmother’s friends when he stayed with her in Florida one time!
Sadly, bridge isn’t that popular anymore, but I suspect a come-back. Why? Well, the ladies of Downton Abbey played it, but that’s not all. An excellent new memoir I just read might rouse people into trying it again. (FYI: For a look at how ladies in the early 1900s enjoyed the game, download this free little gem, Lady Christy’s Bridge Party on your Kindle.)
The author, Betsy Lerner, grew up with a mom in a bridge club in the same era I recall my grandmother’s bridge parties. The Bridge Ladies, as they were known to her, were her mothers social life, her networking, her support group–her 1960’s Facebook friends, if you will. They weathered babies and teenagers, navigated kids with radically different moral standards and rejoiced at graduations and first jobs together. They became grandparents together and navigated long-term care, medicare, widowhood and all things aging, too.
A privileged group in a Connecticut suburb of New York City, they were always perfectly groomed, many continued to follow theater, art and literature by going into the city for events into their 80s. All read and traveled widely. With one exception, none worked outside the home. All were well educated, but all realized that their lives would be marrying Jewish men , taking care of their homes and raising the children and doing most of it pretty much without help from the man.
I have tremendous respect for these women. Unlike the generation Betsy and I inhabit, they “bloomed where they landed.” They knew how to be content. “Content” and “complacent” or “passive” are not the same thing. They did not comparison shop for a lover before acquiring a husband and have no reason to suppose they got it wrong. Aside from possibly too much booze, they didn’t experiment with drugs–at least not until that first middle-aged over-stressed mom’s Valium Rx. They may have yearned for a career, but made the best, pardon the pun, of the hand they were dealt.
They did not cheat on their husbands and didn’t look too carefully for any hints that he might have cheated on them. They did not need to find themselves because they knew who they were–Mrs. His Name in the very best sense of that. Like my mom, Betsy’s mom lost a child and was told to focus on the children she had. It took it’s toll–as it did on many such mothers in that era. But these were steely women. They could pilot a station wagon full of untethered kids into the city a rush hour, or cook and host a buffet for 50 on a day’s notice. They took their “signature dish” when someone died or was ill. Appearances mattered, manners were observed and obeyed. (Image source).
Like me, Betsy has struggled with depression. There was so much of her presence in the book, though, that I found disrespectful to her subject. Her fruitless quest for validation (which I share) of her choices came across as spoiled. Who asks their mother if their father was faithful? That was too far for my comfort. Ditto trying to wrangle out of her mother if she’d had premarital sex. The generations who came of age before Oprah keep those things to themselves because they are no one else’s business. It is a lost art today, but one our country and the world badly needs to remember. I got pretty sick of the glib/hip “cool Mom” references to smoking pot and the rest, but that was never me. To each her own. This is small stuff. The book is excellent and will certainly be favorite of book clubs and ladies of all ages.
So many people of the Bridge Ladies generation fear the end of the social and voluntary groups to which they dedicated much of their time. My next door neighbor begs me to join the local Lions Club–the average age of which is about 80 now. While purely social groups like bridge clubs aren’t as popular now as they once were, they are far from dead. A friend took up mahjong recently and plays avidly–often with ladies of the Bridge Ladies generation. A group of former co-workers still have their card club every week, 20 years on. They play euchre, not bridge, but everything else is exactly as my grandmother would have done it except they favor quesadillas over frosted sandwich loaf and salsa and chips over cream cheese mints. Today social clubs can revolve around walking or even marathon training. Crafts make another popular “club” activity whether formally organized as a club or not. But for many moms such activities can come only at the expense of rare after work- non-kid-activity time, so Facebook, Instagram and the like must suffice with maybe an occasional wine and painting class for fun.
The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner