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It's all in the cards

February 12, 2005|by RICHARD BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, PA.

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

It may not be "the oldest, established, permanent, floating crap game in New York," like in "Guys and Dolls," but some Greencastle women have been playing an established, permanent, floating card game for 57 years.

"We were just a bunch of women who got together for a girls' night out," said Marie Conrad, 85, one of three founding members of the group still playing. They started in 1948, two years before lyricist Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls" hit Broadway.

The women play every other Wednesday night, "floating" to a different player's home.

They play a bidding game called 500 with four players at a table.

"It's like pinochle, but different," said Martha Bricker, 75. "Whoever gets the highest and lowest scores wins."

High winner gets $3, low $1, she said.

"Sometimes, you get high and low and you get $4," Bricker said. "We used to get prizes, whatever you could buy for $3, but we started to have too much junk around, so now we play for money."

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Death and circumstances claimed players over the decades and replacements were recruited to take their places.

No one remembers how many players in the group have died over the years.

"It's probably in the teens," Conrad said.

Today, the group has seven permanent members and three to four regular "subs," one of whom sits in as the eighth player on game nights, said Toby Beckner, 87.

Beckner and Phyllis Hoover, 87, are the other two founding members.

"We were all in our late 20s and early 30s when we first started to play," Beckner said.

Clara Ritacco, 75, Conrad and Hoover each had two children. Bricker, Beckner and Betty Myers, 71, had one each and Leona Miller, 80, had five. Miller joined the group in 1989 after retiring from a 40-year job at a company in Chambersburg, Pa.

"Our husbands used to baby-sit for us," Bricker said. "This was our night out."

"That's what husbands are for," Ritacco said.

"In the early days, we talked about our children, our husbands and our families," she said.

As the years passed, the conversations shifted to local government issues, the schools and the general talk of the town, the women said. They also said they don't gossip on card nights.

"Not a lot, anyway," Ritacco said. "We don't talk about people other than who's sick, who died or who had a baby."

"Now, we talk about our ailments," Beckner said.

"I never thought we'd still be together playing today," she said.

"A lot of (card) clubs quit playing in the summer, but we always play year-round," Bricker said.

In the early years, the host was responsible for the refreshments. At times, they were rather elaborate.

One woman used to serve potpie, Myers said.

"One time we got vegetable soup," Hoover said.

"Remember when Marge Cump served turkey one night," Beckner said.

Simple snacks have been served in more recent years.

"We got too tired to cook as we got older," Bricker said. "It's snacks now, unless it's somebody's birthday, then we have cake."

Today, the women meet at an area restaurant at 6 p.m. on card nights for dinner before heading to the card game.

Early on, they played into the wee hours, often until 2 a.m.

"Now, we're home by midnight or 12:30," Myers said.

Traditions over the years included costumes for Halloween or sometimes a spur-of-the-moment call from the hostess shortly before the game to "come as you are."

"That meant you had to come as you were dressed when she called," Beckner said. "Sometimes, you came in your nightgown."

Over the years, the women routinely went to plays in the city, on shopping trips or to dinner.

They still put $1 in the kitty each time they play to spend at dinner at Nick's Airport Inn in Hagerstown at Christmastime.

Members go as a group to the funerals of members who die.

"They were our friends, just like family," Beckner said.

"We're going to keep on playing cards together until we get too old to do it or we die off," Conrad said. "We'll keep getting replacements until we can't find any more players."

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