The Inquirer says my parents’ favorite game is dead

Oh yeah — my parents are, too

I saw it coming — you had to — but still, I felt a swell of sadness Monday when I read the “Note to Readers” box on the front page of the Inquirer. Yada yada, something about the comics, blah-blah-blah, no more weekly TV schedule, wah-wah-wah—hold on there! No more daily or Sunday bridge columns? They’re gone, dead, out of here forevermore?

True, I didn’t read the bridge column. But I took comfort in knowing it existed, tucked away amongst what we used to call the “funnies,” along with the crossword puzzle and the cryptogram and the rest of the fuddy-duddy stuff. And once in a while, I’d dip into it, peruse the various hands, ponder what bids I’d have made under the circumstances. The language was comfortingly full of jargon: ruffing, honors, going to slam.

My parents played bridge every weekend, making the circuit of different sets of friends, and hosting dinner parties once a month that ended with the plates being cleared and the bridge tables set out. The game was glamorous and mysterious, accompanied by cocktails and dishes of mixed nuts and raised voices and laughter. Being adjudged old enough to learn it was an honor. My siblings and I took our instruction at picnic tables in campgrounds or around kitchen tables at the Shore, atop a vinyl cheat-sheet tablecloth that listed point counts, bidding conventions and the like. Bridge was more intriguing than gin rummy or pinochle because it allowed for more show of personality. My mother, an incurable optimist, unfailingly overbid, loftily telling my father after two whiskey sours, “Oh, come on, Bill, anyone can make three no-trump.” Dad, more cautious—or perhaps more competitive—took seriously the use of bidding to signal what cards he held, a process Mom had no patience for. [SIGNUP]

When I went to college in the South in the ’70s, bridge was still a useful social skill. Cocktails were being replaced by other mood-altering substances, though, which didn’t improve the quality of play. When my mom died soon after I graduated, I sometimes took her place at the table in my dad’s social circle, sipping a daiquiri, trying to remember what an opener of three clubs signified. Later, after I married and had kids, my husband and I vacationed each summer for years with a couple who played bridge and their kids. The game became our civilized refuge after the protracted ordeal of putting all those offspring to bed.

My kids don’t know how to play. By the time they were old enough to learn, the culture had too many other distractions—cable TV, VCRs, CD players, the new toy that was the computer. The Inquirer’s owners aren’t stupid; if they thought there was a market, any market, for that column, they’d keep it alive. But even among the elder-skewed newspaper-buying public, it seems, bridge is a done deal. Too bad. You had to love a game where one player was deemed the dummy, and that gave the language terms like “grand slam” and “following suit” and the verb “finesse.” “Turning tricks” had a different connotation then. You could say “rubber” without anyone sniggering. We were “vulnerable.” Or we weren’t. Well. That hasn’t changed.

UPDATE: As of 6/28, the Inquirer announced the restoration of its bridge column. Never underestimate the power of the olds! Now, who wants to play?