In 1955, when I was 8 years old, young mothers from the First Congregational Church, members of a circle called the Evening Bells, were offered the opportunity to learn to play bridge. They jumped at the chance.
Those young women were Mary Lou Schneckenberger, Joyce Ells, Donna Mae Johnson, Donna W. Johnson, Margie Clever, Midge Sherman, Joyce Sparks, and Nancy Cook. Fifty-nine years later, five of the original eight plus Connie Bazaire, Sandy Maatsch, and Bev Trumley, and a number of substitutes too numerous to mention, are still playing.
They originally met in their respective homes in the evenings. Their original intent was to have a night out of the house when their husbands could watch the children. Those evenings, for a few, stretched to well after midnight.
Over the years, they scheduled dinners that included their husbands. Now, they just have a Christmas dinner amongst themselves. Between them, they have 28 children, 61 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren. Their average age is 81.
As you might expect, the conversation that accompanies the card playing has changed over time. They no longer talk about their own pregnancies, but, that of a family member. They no longer talk as much about their children as they do about their husbands. They have shared school activities, graduations, showers, weddings, medical life crisis, surgeries, aches and pains, and the deaths of spouses. For some, their memories go back to high school. Three are Charlotte High School graduates, former cheerleaders, and band members. Their children know that this group of women is “a big deal.” They are fascinated by the group’s longevity. They have more combined memories than some small communities have years.
And, here is the wisdom about the women in this story. At a time in history when some people are connecting through only social media, they have been coming together in person every week of every year for 59 years. Even those who have moved to surrounding communities return. They laugh a lot. They tell me they are “a pretty good-looking group, rather young for our age.” Then, they laugh some more. And, if laughter keeps you young, it is clear to me these women are not going to grow old, ever. They will die before they grow old. They know the strong connection between them is keeping them healthy, and playing bridge is keeping their brains firing on all cylinders. But, what they treasure the most is that their friendship and loyalty to each other have not changed over the decades, nor will it now.
From a church circle to the circle of life, this is what they represent. Before I left their interview, they had one final request: Would I come back and do another interview in 10 years? I promised them I would. I always keep my promises.
Sharon Kennedy has lived in Charlotte for one year. She is a retired community college administrator, freelance writer, and author of Classroom at the End of the ‘Line’: Assembly Line Workers at Midwest Community and Technical Colleges.