Strength, Encouragement, and Dice

by Joan Sartor

Grannie Panties and Pomegranate Martinis
What do granny panties, pomegranate martinis, and lots of food and laughter have in common? They have all made an appearance at our monthly Bunco gatherings! In case you’ve never heard of Bunco, let me enlighten you.

Bunco is a dice game that dates back to eighteenth-century England. It gained popularity as a gambling game in the United States in the 1800s during the California Gold Rush but has evolved to become a game with the main goals of social interaction, fun, and friendship. In 1996 the World Bunco Association was formed, and today more than 29 million women are Bunco advocates. To play, you need only12 fun-loving people, 3 tables, 9 dice, 12 pencils, and a score sheet for each person. Each player also brings $5 to put in “the pot.” At the end of the game, winners are decided and prize money is distributed.

We organize our Bunco gatherings in this way. Each member hosts the event one month of the year, on the first Friday. She provides drinks and readies her house for the game. Each player also signs up to bring dessert and appetizers twice a year. This way, two appetizers and two desserts are guaranteed at each Bunco night. The food and drink are critical elements in this game!

Survival, Love, and Friendship
How our “Bunco Babes” came together is a lesson in survival, love, and friendship. Nearly three years ago, Maria, the founder of the group, watched her beloved 47-year-old husband Tom suddenly and unexpectedly die of a heart attack. For months afterward, Maria grieved, while doing her best to support and raise her two teenage daughters. She went to work, maintained the house and yard, kept up a strong front for her girls, then fell apart every night. Tom’s sister-in-law Kathy saw Maria suffering and believed that the best way for her to begin the healing process would be to surround herself with a solid support system. Kathy had been part of a Bunco group for years and knew the strong, powerful friendships that were forged as a result. Why not help Maria form her own Bunco group?

With Kathy’s help, Maria sent out invitations to friends and neighbors to join her Bunco group. We had no idea what Bunco was or how to play it, but we were thrilled to be able to do something that might help Maria. We got together, learned the rules of the game, and the rest is history.

The membership has evolved from the original 12 over the years, but today we have a core group of women with unique and diverse personalities. What began as a support net for Maria has grown into a network of strength and encouragement for us all. For example, Lynda has always been the “sergeant” of the group—when we are so busy talking, eating, and drinking at the beginning of the night that we forget to actually play the game, it is Lynda who keeps us on track and gets the game going. It is also our beloved Lynda who discovered she had breast cancer a year and a half ago. During her ordeal, however, Lynda never missed a beat. She fought it in her inimitable way, brought a wardrobe of hats to Bunco night, and was an inspiration to us all. On Mother’s Day 2007, we participated in the Susan G. Komen “Walk for the Cure” to celebrate Lynda’s survival, spirit, and determination. We wore T-shirts—adorned with an emblem designed by Bunco Babe Natalie—that proclaimed, “We Walk for our Bosom Buddies.” Today, Lynda is doing great and has shown cancer who’s boss!

More Bunco Antics
Beth T. is the comedian of the group. We can always count on her to entertain us during difficult times. At Halloween Bunco, Beth appeared as a caveman, replete with tufts of underarm hair, mangled buck teeth, a wild mane, and a beard. Naturally, Beth is the owner of the aforementioned granny panties, and, of course, there’s a story attached to them. One Bunco night, Beth bent over and the top of her underpants peeked over her jeans. Another Beth in the group grabbed the panties and accused Beth T. of having “granny panties.” That’s all Beth T. needed! The next month, Beth T. came to Bunco wearing size-14 polyester briefs that spilled over the top of her jeans. And she made it a point to hike up her panties whenever possible! Another time, when Beth T. broke her nose (her “grand-dog” Milly ran into her face . . . don’t ask!), we all came to Bunco with Band-Aids on our noses to share her pain. On Pajama Night Bunco, Beth arrived wearing her husband’s old boxer shorts, a frayed hospital shirt, and her hair up in pin curlers. If laughter is the best medicine, then our Bunco Babes are the healthiest ladies on the planet!

Another interesting member of the Babes is Annie. When Annie is around, there’s never a dull moment—she possesses the perfect balance of a bawdy sense of humor and a kind, loving heart. One of her favorite pastimes is going to Atlantic City with her friends to get dressed up, gamble, and party. It was Annie’s idea to introduce a new dimension to our Bunco nights by adding another dice game called Left-Right-Center (LRC). This is a wildly funny game played with as many people as you have—the more the merrier, and the bigger the cash pot at the end. In the beginning, a typical Bunco night lasted an hour and a half to two hours. Now, it is not unusual to be there 3 or 4 hours as we eat, drink, talk, play Bunco, talk, drink, eat, drink, and then play LRC!

Besides the two life-altering experiences endured by Maria and Lynda, our group has celebrated fiftieth birthdays, daughters’ engagements, and college and high school graduations. One of our members has suffered through a divorce (although she came out the other side a stronger, happier woman). Sadly, in the last year, Beth T. lost her father to old age, and Maria is slowly and painfully losing her mother to Alzheimer’s disease. Through it all, we still manage to get together once a month. We make Bunco night a priority in our schedule. It is something we do for ourselves because as we get older, we realize how fragile life is—and consequently how important our support network is. We have learned to grab all the joy and love we can while we are on this earth. That’s what Bunco is all about—not the game itself but the love our gatherings inspire. And, we’re the perfect empty-nesting group!

For more about Bunco, see the following Web sites:
“Bunco,” Wikipedia
“Bunco and Other Vices,” Helen Ginger
The World Bunco Association
“Food, Talk, Dice: Hey, It’s Bunco Time!” Time
“National Tournament: Vegas Showdown: Women—and Some Men—Bond over Bunco at Tournament,” Las Vegas Review-Journal
“How to Play LCR,” Toy Crossing

Joan Sartor, a sixth-grade teacher, has enjoyed her role as a Bunco Babe for two years now. Joan and her husband, John, just completed their first year as full-time empty nesters, with third child, Eric, going off to college last fall. They’re enjoying every minute of it…

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