By Samantha Staples
Everyone knows bingo. Many love to play bingo. For me, bingo isn’t just a game; it’s a stockpile of memories that I go visit every day. I’ve played bingo by myself, but the reason it’s so memorable to me is my grandmother, Naomi Countryman, the real Bingo Queen.
My grandmother loved bingo. Growing up, I never saw the point of just sitting there listening to someone yell numbers. As I got older and played bingo in school, I realized people liked to win. But that wasn’t the case for my grandmother. She just loved to play. Even in her old age when she couldn’t play the sports she loved or eat her favorite food, she still loved the excitement of bingo, slots, and the casino.
The last time I played bingo was when my grandmother was in a nursing home. I was working at her favorite casino, The Bingo Palace, and at that time, employees were not allowed on the gaming floor. This was a very strict rule set by the gaming board, which everyone was supposed to follow. Of course there are exceptions to every rule.
For this rule, I was an exception since I was taking care of my grandmother. I could stay with her as long as I agreed to follow the rules, meaning I couldn’t touch any machines or claim any winnings. Even if I was assisting my grandmother, I wasn’t worried about claiming any winnings—she was there for one reason and one reason only, to have fun. Which she did. A lot. She would go from slot machine to slot machine, losing ten dollars here, ten there, winning twenty, and then losing again. It didn’t matter; she was smiling, and that’s what I wanted.
Once, I was sitting at a machine with her and a guard approached me because he knew I was not supposed to be gambling there. I corrected him, told him I was not gambling, and that I had special permission to be there with my grandmother to assist her if she needed it. Not believing me, he got more people involved to try and remove me. When upper management came, they looked at my grandmother and instantly reassigned the guard to a different part of the casino. This is how much my grandmother loved this place. Everybody knew her—except the rookies, of course.
The only thing my grandmother loved more than slots was bingo. She would’ve spent time every day on a round of bingo if it had been available. But she went as much as she could, which was a lot! We used to call the Bingo Palace my grandmother’s “second home” because if she wasn’t home, she was at the Palace.
The last time, which was only my second time playing bingo, I was sitting with my grandmother. I had just wheeled her up to the table and set her sheets in front of her. There was a little bit of time before the first round started, so I got her some coffee. I still remember how she liked it: two half and halfs, no sugar, and a titch of water, depending on if she wanted to keep it stronger or not.
When the round started, I thought, “Dang, I hope Gram wins. That would be sweet!” I looked up at her and she was just daubing away, telling me to make sure I got all the numbers on my sheets. I stopped after the first round and asked Grandma, “Do you think you can handle two more sheets?” To which she so nicely replied, “Hell yeah!”
I gave her my sheets and just watched her. I watched her play, taking in the sight of how different she was at that moment. How bright her face was, how fast she was moving. It was like she was back again. Back to her old self, the uplifting, and hilarious grandmother she used to be. Don’t get me wrong, even while in a nursing home, she cracked jokes that could make grown men blush. But in old age, people change, and especially with being in a chair, she was different.
I went to the restroom while another family member visited her and played bingo with her. When I came back and sat down, she asked if I wanted to play again, but I didn’t. I watched her keep up with the other bingo players, with nothing but pure bliss on her face.
After bingo was over, though she didn’t win, she was happy to have been there, and was sad to be leaving. No matter how long she was away from the casino, she always wanted to go back. She always had fun.