Crossing the bridge to friendship

Published 8:39 am Thursday, October 2, 2008

When you walk into Napoleon’s Restaurant at The Demopolis Inn on any given Wednesday, you will find two tables of women playing cards. They aren’t playing Texas Hold ’Em, and they aren’t playing spades, hearts or even Go Fish.

They are playing bridge, and many of them have been playing together regularly since the 1960s. The popularity of bridge grew in the late 1940s and ’50s, and became a staple around Demopolis as well. Many people would host bridge parties in their homes and take part in tournaments, even earning national master’s points along the way.

“They all eat lunch here throughout the week,” said Napoleon’s owner Ray Saliba, “and they all play bridge. So, I told them, ‘Why don’t you all come play in my front room?’ So, they started playing in the front room every Wednesday, and have for practically every Wednesday for the last two years.

“It’s a lot easier on them. They don’t have to clean the house up, they don’t have to fix lunch and they don’t have to clean up afterwards. We do all of that, and they enjoy it.”

The Wednesday group is an amalgam of different clubs that began play in the 1960s and ’70s.

“There are a couple of other clubs that play on Tuesdays,” said Bunny Abrams. “Alma Shepherd and those ladies play on Tuesday afternoon, and Amelia Traeger and her group are in a Tuesday club.”

The Wednesday ladies come to Napoleon’s around 9 in the morning.

“We play three rounds, and then we eat lunch,” Abrams said, “and then, we play six hands.

“We chip in $2 to the kitty, and then do something with it. Sometimes, it’s for each other, like flowers or if somebody is sick, or sometimes we give it to charity.”

The Wednesday club has gone through several changes over the years, as its members have gotten jobs or moved away. Most recently, the club has added three members from Sumter County.

“We’ve always had around nine or 10 members,” Abrams said. “You have four people at each table, but you have to have extra people in case somebody goes out of town.”

It is a group that enjoys its fellowship more than it does the game itself — just a group of friends enjoying each other’s company and playing a few relaxing hands of bridge.

“This is really Wednesday therapy,” said Putt Perry. “It’s like being with a psychiatrist, but a whole lot cheaper! We talk about a lot of different things, especially our grandchildren.”

“We talk about everything,” Abrams said. “We talk about politics and just about everything else!”

They prefer to play contract bridge — what they call “party bridge” — as opposed to duplicate bridge, versions of bridge where the rules are the same, but the format of play is slightly different.

“It keeps your mind active,” Perry said. “You need to exercise your brain, and it is very good to keep you from having dementia.”

“Once a year, we all go to the beach together,” said Betty Low, “just to get away and play. We don’t take any husbands, any children and no problems.”

The card-playing really is secondary to being among friends of similar ages and backgrounds. Playing bridge is a means of getting these ladies together in one place so they can talk about the news in their lives or around town and enjoy each other’s company.

Who wins? Who loses? Who knows? What matters is that these friends all come together and carry on the longtime Demopolis tradition of playing bridge with each other. They may pass on the serious side of the game, but the fellowship and fun are always a grand slam.