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In-person Bingo back at senior center

  • Thompson Senior Center Executive Director Deanna Jones, far left, reunites with people who played bingo over the phone during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the last Friday in June, older adults gathered at the center to play together in person for the first time in more than a year. (Deanna Jones photograph) Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/5/2021 9:06:36 PM
Modified: 7/5/2021 9:06:40 PM

WOODSTOCK — Wonderful.

That’s how people who have played bingo over the phone through the Thompson Senior Center in Woodstock described the first game they played in person together the last Friday in June.

Bingo players are a dedicated bunch and during the COVID-19 pandemic, executive director Deanna Jones was determined to find a way to keep them playing. Phone bingo ended up being a fairly easy transition and it had a hidden benefit: People who live farther away could participate, especially in the colder months when bad weather might’ve kept them from making the drive to Woodstock. I played a game last summer, dialing in from the Mascoma Valley and was instantly charmed: It might not have been the same as being in person — is anything truly? — but the camaraderie was still there.

“It was fun,” Kathy Dudley said at the reunion last week. “It was nice to have a place to do bingo.”

As COVID-19 vaccination rates rose and cases declined in Vermont, Jones began planning a reunion — lunch and bingo — for the dedicated pandemic players. She kindly invited me to join. It marked a return to in-person games, though people will still be able to continue to call in.

The mood that day in late June was joyful, but that word feels somewhat inadequate. There was a mix of relief that things seemed to be getting better. There was gratitude for Jones and the rest of the Thompson staff for keeping programs going during a difficult time. There was a different sort of glow on people’s faces: Finally, they could be together. Finally.

“I’ve missed you so much,” Jones said to attendees as they entered the dining room. Another person said, “I can hug you.”

Carol Towne, of Woodstock, was one of those. She played almost every week in the last year and filled in for Jones as caller on occasion.

“It was good. It was fun,” Towne said. “It was easy.”

I sat across from Dudley, of Woodstock, and Linda Maxham, of Bridgewater. Maxham started playing after the death of her husband, for whom she was a primary caregiver. Dudley has been playing on and off.

“It’s great,” Maxham said of the reunion. “I can see faces today instead of voices.”

Some people were meeting in person for the first time while others were seeing each other after a long absence. Prize tables were set up, featuring cookies baked that morning at the center’s kitchen, T-shirts, scarves and blankets.

People who won games over the phone, but had yet to be mailed a prize were able to choose one in person, in addition to winners that day. As the attendees got settled — 15 in person and one on the phone — talk turned to upcoming rummage sales and the Route 4 construction through town, among other topics.

The games began with a traditional bingo: Five in a row up, down or diagonal. Some played with one card, others two.

“Here we go,” Jones said, then repeating a phrase heard over and over, “I’m so happy to be together.”

Using an app on her phone, Jones began to call numbers.

“Am I going around all your numbers like I do on the phone, Carol?” she asked.

“Yes, you are,” Towne replied to laughter.

I had learned from my previous go around that there is more than one way to play bingo and I learned even more that day. We played a round of telephone pole (two horizontal lines across the top, one vertical down the center) and layer cake (three horizontal lines, every other on the five row card), which I initially thought meant there was an actual cake. Maxham and Dudley kindly corrected me.

While there is a sense of togetherness on the phone, it’s more pronounced in person. Bingo, by nature, is a social game. There were side conversations and gentle ribbing and slightly exasperated sighs when Jones called a number that was one off from what someone needed.

“This should be easy,” Norm Boynton, of Quechee, said in response to playing a traditional game, followed by a full board.

“You say that every game,” Maxham replied.

After about an hour, the group paused for a lunch of pizza and salad. Jones walked around taking selfies with attendees. Others walked up to the prize table, deciding what to choose.

“Wonderful,” Boynton said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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