Needless to say, the pandemic has fundamentally changed numerous aspects of our lives, including the ability to connect with friends, family, and loved ones. It’s even more challenging as cold weather sets in, impeding the ability to gather outdoors. Over the summer, hosting small gatherings on the patio felt very safe and a welcome break from screen time and technology. Going on a walk or on a bike ride with a friend was another great way to socialize. But now that it’s December in Minnesota, we all must get a bit more creative in how we stay connected. For me and my extended family, it’s been a weekly online game of Bridge.
We’ve always been a family of card players; Mom and Dad played Cribbage and Spades when I was growing up, and taught me these games. I played Pinochle in high school, and it was right after my cancer diagnosis in 2016 when I thought, I’m going to learn how to play Bridge. I had this newfound energy and enthusiasm to try something new, and I saw it as a way to connect with family. Years ago, my brother Tony learned the game in college, then taught it to everyone else; I saw family and friends playing in groups of four after the groom’s dinner at his wedding in fall of 2015. I knew it was an incredibly challenging game, and I must admit the learning process was slow; thank goodness Tony has the patience of a saint, and also the insight to give me a helpful book entitled, “Bridge for Everyone.” As opposed to Bridge for dummies, I guess…
But one of the most enjoyable features of Bridge is not just learning the intricacies of a complex card game, but also the social aspects and ability to connect while playing. My Mom is (was) a member of a bridge club in Milaca; it is temporarily on hold given the pandemic, the average age of the players, and the lack of enthusiasm to embrace an online format. These ladies would get together once a week at a local cafe, enjoy lunch, then play at several tables. I had the opportunity to join them back in February 2020, when I made a trip to Milaca for a book signing event; playing Bridge all afternoon and learning from these seasoned players was extremely enjoyable. I hope once life returns to normal, we can gather again someday.
In the meantime, the online format known as Trickster Cards is about as close to the real thing as you can get in terms of the playing cards, the green felt table screen, and so on. In fact, there are several advantages to playing in this format; the main one being we don’t need to travel any distance to play with others in different cities, states, or even countries. My sister’s friend Josh has even joined in from Korea. As a result, we’ve played more consistently, meeting up once a week as opposed to once a month or more, and it’s helping me learn better strategy in terms of bidding and trick play.
Also, since shuffling and dealing are quite time consuming while playing in person, the online format saves time and allows for more actual play in the same 2-3 hour window. We usually end up playing three rubbers; a rubber is completed when one pair becomes first to win two games, each game presenting a score of 100 points. Immersion in the card play for longer periods of time is not only much more enjoyable, but another way to improve one’s game.
Finally, the ability to connect and socialize is still a major part of this endeavor. We typically play on Sunday nights and share stories from the previous week, as well as make plans for future gatherings. Refreshments have always been a part of in person Bridge; virtually, we will share what we are sipping or snacking on at the moment, offering a critique of a new red wine or impressions sampling the latest bourbon. And of course, there is often a healthy dose of venting; about the pandemic, the restrictions, lack of travel and social interaction, the challenges working from home. This is no different from the day to day difficulties everyone is facing, but having others there to lend a listening ear helps, in and of itself.
Looking back, it’s remarkable how deciding to learn Bridge in 2016 led to this unique way to stay connected in 2020. It was rather prescient, at the time, and reinforces my growing belief that things happen for a reason. While there is hope for the near future with vaccines on the horizon, I am still grateful for this card game, the technology, and the ability to engage with friends and family from a distance.
How are you staying connected throughout this pandemic season?