We didn’t have a whole lot of entertainment venues in our Southwest Baltimore neighborhood back in the 60’s other than the local taverns but one thing we did have in our working class neighborhood was BINGO! Yes bingo was quite popular among the locals who lived there and also brought in a lot of folks from out of the neighborhood. In its heyday, St. Benedict’s Church would have bingo on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. Usually around 7 o’clock, the orange school buses would pull up in front of the church and the crowd of ladies would hustle off of the bus and into the building to grab a choice seat at one of the tables.
One evening, I went up there with my mother as she was having a bit of trouble getting around. It was quite entertaining and hazardous to my health spending an evening in the hall as I probably took 5 years off of my life from all the smoking the old ladies would be doing. I grabbed a card and was anxiously watching for my numbers as the caller methodically shouted them out when I looked around and could see some of the old ladies would be playing numerous cards at the same time. Here I was studying my one card and these old ladies would be puffing away and watching a bunch at the same time.
One of the funniest and someone shocking surprises was when someone would yell out, ‘Bingo’ and some of the other ladies would shout and curse at the winner, and move on to the next game, smoking away. They also served some basic food and drinks during the night, and I’m sure it was a money making proposition for the church as the hall was usually heavily occupied. It could also be quite profitable for the winners as some of the pots ran up to several hundred dollars. I knew of one guy who worked the event and he would brag about how much money he made during Bingo Nights!
I never went back to play Bingo after that night as I just couldn’t handle all the smoking, and figured that I was out of my league trying to beat the old ladies at their game. However, it was quite the thing back in the 60’s and 70’s and provided an evening out and some entertainment for the people who loved playing and waited for that moment to be able to shout out….BINGO!
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