I decided recently that I needed to get busy contributing to my new community, so I started by volunteering to be a deliverer for the local Meals on Wheels program. Treena, the perky, blond, no-frills, raspy-voiced Program Director asked me to come in early on my first day so she could "show me the ropes." When I arrived at the Senior Center, a rousing game of bingo was already in progress. When I reached Treena's office in the back, I told her, "That looks like they're having fun out there!" Her reply was a casual, "Would you like to call bingo numbers next Friday?" Because I was filled with so much pure joy, it's hard to remember my exact response, but I think I performed one of those Little-Rascal-esque, bright-eyed, fist-pump-scoop-across-the-chest maneuvers and shouted something like, "WOULD I?!!!" (Meaning, "Yes!")
I worked on my material all week. I had a couple of ideas for jokes, but I thought I'd gage "the room" first and get a good feel for my audience. I spent hours picking just the right outfit to wear on my big day. I settled on my pink jeans, white turtleneck, and fuschia v-neck sweater (Always wear bright colors when standing in front of a crowd that might have poor vision!).
On my big day, I arrived early at the Center to "mentally prepare." The prize table was already set up and, quite frankly, it broke my heart a little. The "prizes" were mostly canned goods. Canned goods, bags of spaghetti and flour, Rice-a-Roni, and pie crusts. They were playing for groceries. Treena pointed out that many of the seniors were living on fixed incomes, and times were pretty tough. Hence, she explained, several of the bingo games we played each week always included "All Wins." These were the games in which I was to call numbers until EVERYONE got a bingo, and therefore claimed their "prize."
Treena sat me down by the mike and rotating basket of numbers, and I excitedly watched as my "contestants" slowly meandered in. The women were all dressed similarly: orthopedic sneakers, cotton stretch pants, and turtlenecks under brightly decorated sweatshirts. Some of the sweatshirts were Christmas themed -- cardinals perched on snow-capped evergreen boughs. The men wore a combination of button down, tucked-in flannel shirts, eyeglass cases peeking out over the left hand pockets, or brand new Penn State sweatshirts, Christmas presents from their grandchildren.
I smiled broadly and greeted them with a nod as they poured their cups of coffee, grabbed a slice of vanilla-iced cake and a bingo card, then took their usual places at the many tables. Treena began with a few announcements: Craft day was to be this wednesday, anyone interested should bring a pair of scissors and arrive promptly at 9:00 a.m. sharp. Also, a field trip was being planned to attend a matinee performance of "Nana's Naughty Knickers" at the local dinner theater. When the announcements were completed, Treena placed a hand on my shoulder, introduced me, and handed me the mike.
We had a BLAST!! I said hello, told them I accepted any and all bribes (they thought that was HILARIOUS!), and the games began. My treasure-trove of jokes were a huge hit! When I called "B-4," I followed with, "Like my dress size!" Or, when the number was "I-24," I'd add, "Like my age!" They were in stitches, I tell ya! When we got to the next game and I again called "I-24," I yelled to the crowd, "Say it with me..." and they all replied in unison, "Like your age!!!" LOVE those seniors!!
In the blink of an eye, the hour was up and the prizes had all been awarded. I helped Treena return the unclaimed prizes to the pantry in the kitchen, and placed the number wheel and cards in their appropriate cabinet. When I returned to the room, I saw a game of bridge was being played in one corner, in another, two men sat hunched over a card table assembling a jigsaw puzzle. At the center table sat four women exchanging recipes and pictures of grandchildren. They made me wish I was one of them.
As I stood observing my new friends, I wondered if my own generation, when we reach this age, will ever gather like this, playing cards and enjoying each other's company? Probably not. We're so disconnected, aren't we? We'll probably grow old sitting in our empty, lonely houses, facebooking each other about favorite TV programs and recent trips to the doctor. Oh, I hope not! I hope we have a wonderful place like the Susquehanna Senior Center where we can brew a big pot of coffee, play trivial pursuit and reminisce about Bruce Springsteen concerts, puffy hair, and fashions containing enormous shoulder pads. Wouldn't that be great?
I grabbed my coat and purse and was heading towards the door when an older gentleman in a Penn State shirt looked up from his cards, raised his hand and yelled, "Take care, Joan! Nice meeting you!" I turned back to him and replied, "You too! Thanks for letting me be here today!" That's the thing I've noticed about volunteering to work with senior citizens. You start-off thinking you're doing them this enormous favor, but you always end up being the one thanking THEM in the end!
Thanks for Reading!!