Wednesday, November 26, 2008

As Thanksgiving Traditions Go, This One's a Gamble

I was thumbing through a magazine recently and came across an article on Thanksgiving traditions. There was a woman who was talking about something she does every year with her family that involves a little tree that sits on their table - they call it the Thankful Tree or some name like that. Starting on November 1st they all take turns attaching pieces of paper to the tree that have things they're thankful for written on them, things like, "I'm thankful for my wonderful kids" or "I'm thankful for stretch denim." Then on Thanksgiving day they read them out loud to each other and they get all emotional and everyone cries, even the men and the people with no feelings.

That got me thinking about something that I started a few months ago with my own extended family that I've decided to make into my Thanksgiving tradition. Something that has brought us together like nothing else, a simple activity that has brought new meaning to our family gatherings and has brought joy to everyone from my 87-year-old mother to my own 10-year-old daughter.

Yes, I'm talking about Bingo.

And really, what could make you more grateful than winning a fistful of dollar bills away from family members in a pseudo-gambling game that rewards you for getting five dots in a row?

Okay, so maybe it isn't as 'special' as getting a little note that tells you how much you're loved, but how many times do you have to hear that in one year? And tell me - are those sweet little notes going to pay the gas bill, or put a nice hunk of Stilton in your refrigerator? I didn't think so. And trust me - you'll see there's plenty to be thankful for when you yell out 'Bingo' and someone walks over and puts a big soft pile of money in your lap.

My little tradition started a few months ago before a family get-together. We had been trying to plan a family trip to Las Vegas but couldn't accommodate all our different schedules, so I thought the Bingo idea would satisfy everyone's gambling jones for the time being. We'd pour ourselves a drink, put our dollar bills in the pot, and feel the rush of uncertainty as we waited to see if we would win. It would be just like Vegas, except without the smoke and the ever present fear of accidentally walking into a Celine Dion show.

But this wouldn't be your kid's Bingo game -I wanted the feel of a real Bingo parlor. I journeyed into a strange part of town to a store called Bingo World and bought a deluxe Bingo cage, and ink daubers to use instead of those cheap plastic markers that could fall off your card. I wanted everyone to feel like they were actually playing in a church rec room, or spending a few hours with old ladies wearing fanny packs and crammed into an empty storefront next to a gun shop. When the person next to you asked to borrow a quarter I wanted his breath to smell just like cigarettes and day-old Slim Jims.

And what a fun time we had! There's nothing like seeing your elderly mother coming at you with a fistful of bills and hissing, "Here's five dollars. Now give me a good card this time" or seeing your schoolteacher sister jump up and do a little T-Pain grind when she realizes she just won the pot for the second time in a row. Kiyomi was the official Bingo caller and when I saw how she yelled out in a strong, clear voice, "B-29!" and "What part of N-70 didn't you understand?" I felt so proud and knew I had done my job as a parent.

I'm telling you - you can't buy these kinds of memories. I see this tradition as living on in our family for generations, long after that other family's Thankful Tree has been stuffed in a box and carted off to Goodwill. My kids will look back fondly on these gatherings, and wistfully say, "Remember the fourth game during Thanksgiving '08? I'll never forget the look on mom's face when she finally won and how her hands trembled as she counted out her thirty-eight dollars. Man, those were good times."

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  1. Precious, precious memories.

    And how am I going to top this? Here I was going to post something down the road about sweet Christmas traditions we're starting for our family, and there's no way I can compete with the vision of you all sitting around in your polyester and visors with Kiyomi barking out commands into a little plastic microphone...

  2. This is genius! I'm going bingo cage shopping because Christmas is at our house this year and now I've found the entertainment! Thank you!

  3. Hi, nice blog!
    I love Thanksgiving day very much. I found a site with a lot of things about Thanksgiving. Maybe this will interest you: All about Thanskgiving Day!!! :)

  4. Thankful to fill my pockets with the family's money. Hooray for bingo!

  5. Mwahahahaha! You're so funny! I frickin LOVE BINGO. To the point where I've been ridiculed for suggesting playing it at times. Have you ever done "gay" BINGO at Hamburger Mary's on Tues nights? It's pretty darn fun. We'll have to go sometime.

  6. ABSOLUTELY HYSTERICAL! I love the idea of Bingo
    with my 85 year old mother, who is HARD OF HEARING. We'll call it ECHO BINGO. Mostly I love it
    for the cash prize component. Until I find that
    deluxe Bingo set, I will "craft" my own version, cuz I just can't wait to get my hands on some of my kids money- See, I'm hopeful already. Thanks for sharing this fun idea, the gambling goes well with our Family Poker competition. Happy Thanksgiving- Love to the Family.

  7. I think it is awesome and like you said, everyone from the older to the youngest in the family get to participate and have fun!

    Have a great Thanksgiving.

    ps - I hope you win. :)

  8. My 3 year old has already discovered the joy of Bingo (thanks, grandma) and I imagine that a cutthroat tourney is just around the corner, knowing my family. Besides, if both you and the fanny pack set are doing it - how uncool could it be?

  9. Carrie - I didn't win. But Kiyomi won $35 dollars, what she considered fitting "payment" for her excellent Bingo-calling duties.

  10. My mom would have loved your family tradition she passed a year ago last October. Reading your article made me think about our mom and we called her the bingo queen.

    Great idea..
    Dorothy from grammology

  11. Gay bingo is awesome! I miss the left coast so much, just thinking about it.

  12. OMG! This is awesome! We have a family reunion every other year (it's coming 7/4/09) and we need to have something to go with all of the wine, margaritas and Grand Marnier! I am absolutely getting a Bingo cage. Thanks for sharing your holiday fun with us!


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