My mother is hosting her bridge club tonight. The folding chairs are in place; the tables set with scorepads, sharpened pencils, and the playing cards used just for these evenings--secret decks forbidden for use in the card-house building and gin rummy marathons my sister and I were hooked on. Her prettiest bridge tallies adorn the sideboard-vintage, homemade, too special to ever use. I still don't know where these things are kept, and have never thought to ask. I'm terrible at cards-Euchre eludes me, and I'll pocket my spoon at three of a kind if I have a good enough hunch. Someday, though, I know I'll inherit the trappings of Bridge Club, whether or not I'm bona fide. My mother's mother was a member, and her association with these women is a cord that connects them, still. Some of my earliest recollections include these women, and this weekly ritual, and although some of the mystery and formality is gone, and about half the original members have died, what I consider to be the hallmark of bridge club abides-meaning, the snack selection hasn't changed. After many years, despite countless advances in the industry, including various interpretations of rice, soy, and pita, Bridge Club menu features the same glorious stuff of my childhood, and I couldn't be happier about it. Ladies and gentlemen of the internet: presenting the lesser-known crunchables; beloved, unsung heroes of the chip aisle-Bugles, Combos, Funyons, I salute you.
The buildup to Bridge Night was short but frenetic. Our mother would remind us, "You know I have bridge tomorrow night", and we would all agree to remove our shoes from the landing and not dirty the downstairs bathroom, or disgrace the lower level of our home in any way-including, but not limited to: walking through the middle of the freshly-vacuumed living room and disturbing the sweeper marks, leaving homework strewn on the kitchen counter, and eating. In particular, there was to be no cross contamination of the Snacks. No opening of the puffy foil bags, no excessive or unnecessary handling of them, really it would be better if we just didn't look at them. That's the message I came away with. They were exclusive, and special-just like the Bridge Club ladies, who were also loud, and coughed a lot, but that's beside the point. I learned that if you are quiet, and helpful, you will be rewarded in Pringles. I believe that heaven will be much like this.
Once the members arrived, I was instructed to take drink orders and pass out the sacred refreshments, which had been arranged in four silver dishes, each in the shape of a different playing card suit and covered with a clean tea towel. In exchange for my tableside service, and my sparkling manners, and for not defiling the sweeper marks, I received a nice mixed-grill of snacks to take to my room in secret. A potpourri of artificial color, dehydrated potatoes, and MSG, washed down with a Diet Crush if I was lucky. For me, Bridge Club evenings always culminated in pure decadence- with me in bed, thumbing through my mother's magazines; radio on, snacks by my side. The party downstairs typically went later than 11:00-and even though I usually complained when my sister's Bon Jovi got out of control, knocking emphatically on the wall separating her room and mine to signal my displeasure, I didn't mind the cacophany of voices on those Monday evenings. The white noise of Bridge Club-low laughter, the tinkling of ice in glasses, an occasional hacking cough you'd swear needed medical attention, and finally, the ladies' noisy departure underneath my bedroom window as I hovered between sleep and dreaming--it was the noise of the familiar, it was comfort. Tonight I'm in the basement, freshly showered from a long day at the greenhouse-I've stolen away with my snacks and soda-be still my heart, it is a Diet Crush. Still lucky, I guess.