Ancient Entertainment and Modern Delights
Games at the Swampscott COA
For centuries games have been a popular form of entertainment for young and old alike. In addition, recent studies have shown the important role that games play, especially learning new ones, for the senior population. Apparently, challenging the brain to think in new ways stimulates the brain cells, keeping them healthier and happier. The Council of Aging in Swampscott offers a great variety of games. This month the spotlight is on Mah Jongg.
Walking down the hallway to interview participants, I hear a wonderful click -clacking crackling noise-unlike any I have heard before. On entering the room I see tables full of beautiful, colorful ivory cubes with exotic decoration. I was enchanted even before asking questions of the Mah Jongg players. Mah Jongg has its origin in China. Ma Que, meaning ‘sparrow’, is a game of strategy, skill, calculation and a bit of chance. It is similar to Rummy in that it is based on forming melds and a pair. Unlike Rummy, the four players use 144 tiles. These tiles are based on Chinese characters and symbols. There are numbered tiles called ‘simples’ and winds and dragons called ‘honours’.
There are many theories for the origin of Mah Jongg. One myth is that Confucius, a Chinese philosopher in 500 B.C. E. developed the game. There are three cardinal tiles in the game which correspond to the three cardinal virtues that he taught: benevolence, sincerity and filial piety. It is also known that he loved birds which could explain the name “sparrow”. The game was imported to the United States in the 1920’s. Abercrombie and Fitch was the first store to sell the game.
The Mah Jongg group at Swampscott Senior Center is led by Norma Friedman. Norma has been playing since she was a teenager, having been taught by her older sisters. When I asked participants why they came to play so often, there was a variety of complimentary answers: “for the comraderie,” said Fran; “ for the challenge,” said Shirley. According to Elaine, “It keeps my brain active”. One player was using her mother’s set from the 1920’s and another player said she is addicted and plays four times a week! Norma has such love and enthusiasm for the game, it is no wonder so many people attend the sessions. Lessons are taught a few times a year. Mah Jongg meets Mondays and Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m.
Another game at the Center is Canasta. This Rummy like card game came to the United States in 1953. It is a game that now rivals both Bridge and Monopoly in its popularity.
Canasta was created by an attorney named Segundo Santos and an architect named Alberto Serrato, both from Uruguay, South America in 1939. According to Santos, he tried to create a game with his favorite elements from Bridge and Rummy. It originally was called “ Canastilla”, little basket in Spanish, because that is where they stored the cards. It came to be called Canasta, regular sized basket, thinking that people would have an easier time pronouncing it if they didn’t speak Spanish. Josephine Artayate, a woman from Argentina, introduced it in the united States when she came to visit her friends in Manhattan, N.Y. in 1953. It has been here ever since gaining more and more popularity.
We can thank Elaine Young for the Canasta played at the Senior Center. The participants of this game say Elaine is a great and very patient teacher. Elaine feels it is a very special experience for her to be able to give back to the community with this activity. She says it is very important especially in winter when activity for Seniors is limited. “You can come to the Center and always find a game,” she explained. She also said it was a great avenue for finding friends. Participants say it makes a pleasant morning of challenge and comraderie. Elaine gives lessons during different times of the year. Please contact the Center for more information on when classes are offered.
Canasta meets Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m.
Bridge is also offered at the COA in Swampscott. This extremely popular card game dates back to the 16th century, having evolved from the game called Whist. The game as we know it today developed over the 19th and 20th centuries. The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) was founded in 1937. Bridge, a partnership game of “infinite possibilities” using a standard deck of 52 cards, is the English pronunciation of the game called Biritch. It is a challenging and somewhat addictive game according to Marilyn Hurwitz, Director of the Senior Center as well as an avid Bridge player. She also says it is excellent for mental stimulation and like many of these games, slows down the deterioration of memory as we age. It is the game that has given us the popular expression of “Play your trump hand.” At the Center, there are two specific groups for Bridge. Monday’s game is a non sanctioned game where some experience is necessary. Ruth Ross leads this session. Thursday, Harriett Leavitt is the director and instructor. It is a ACBL sanctioned contract game and Harriett gives a 15 minute lesson before the game begins. For beginners, there are lessons two to three times a year. Please contact the Senior Center at 781-596-8866 if interested in lessons.
Intermediate Bridge meets Mondays at 12:30 p.m. and Duplicate Bridge meets Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.
Rummy Cube, similar to Gin Rummy, is also a tile game. It is yet another way to keep the mind sharp says Geraldine. The group at the Center has had the tradition of meeting together for 30 years. Originally golfers together, the group has now incorporated some new members. Sandra says the game is stimulating and she loves the comraderie. With Rummy Cube, there is no committment for prior planning. You can just walk right in. One participant said: “Remember, the more you use it, the less you lose it.” Rummy Cube meets Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m.
Social Cribbage meets Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and Cribbage Club is at 7:00 p.m. Poker is also available at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesdays. Please call Rod at 781-596-8866 for more information.
It is wonderful to see how many Seniors are interested in staying healthy and keeping their brains sharp and stimulated. It is also a gift to have a Senior Center that offers so many ways to do so.