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Gambling on Mother's Day
by Cathy Corcoran
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Playing Beano with Mom

When I was a young girl in South Boston, there was no legal gambling in Massachusetts, but for those who liked a game of chance, there were a lot of ways to place a bet in Southie.  


There was a bookie on every corner. People sent money away to buy Irish Sweepstakes tickets. There was Suffolk Downs, where my grandparents liked to play the ponies. And there was the Beano bus.

Every Saturday night, the Beano bus left the corner of I Street and Broadway, loaded with middle-aged women who rode for an hour and a half to Derry, New Hampshire to play Beano.  


My mother was on board nearly every week. 

She and my Aunt Marguerite would start getting ready on Saturday afternoon. They’d put on their Playtex Living Girdles and their seamed stockings. They’d spray themselves with Arpege and apply their Revlon lipstick - Windsor Rose for my mother, Cherries in the Snow for Aunt Marguerite. They’d arrive at the corner early to buy thick ham sandwiches and crunchy dill pickles at the I Street deli. Then they’d settle down on the bus as they all sped north.  


One night, my mother brought me along. I was 12 years-old, a very young Catholic-schoolgirl 12, and I was excited to be riding the Beano bus with all the grownup ladies.


We roared away from I Street, and after we ate our sandwiches, when the entire bus reeked of Arpege and pickle juice, someone started to sing “Wait Til the Sun Shines, Nellie.” Then came “Happy Days Are Here Again.” I sang along, delighted by the ladies' high spirits.


We laughed our way off the bus in Derry, and settled in to play Beano for money. No one seemed concerned that a 12 year-old was gambling in anything-goes New Hampshire. 


My mother was a whiz at Beano. She routinely handled 32 different cards, placing her red plastic markers at lightening speed, then leaning over me and my six cards to point out O64, which I had forgotten to cover.


Our stomachs clenched with excitement when we “waited” for a single winning number to be called. 

The instant someone yelled, “Beano!” everyone in the hall groaned aloud, losers complaining about the unfairness of it all.  


I could feel the high spirits slowly draining away as we swept those red plastic markers off our no-luck cards after every game. At 10 o’clock, the winless ladies gathered their coats and gloves and trudged through the icy New Hampshire slush to board the bus for the long ride home.


The songs were different on the return trip. “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” and “There’s a Long Long Trail Awinding.” The bus was awash in melancholy. 


Then someone asked Mame Cahill to sing. She stood up in the aisle, an older woman in a black wool coat, and started singing in a quavery voice. 

    “A mother’s love’s a blessing,” she sang.

    No matter where you roam.

    blah blah blah blah blah blah

    You’ll miss her when she’s gone.”


I had never heard that song. It sounded weird, morbid. 

Mame Cahill warbled on.


    “Love her as in childhood

    Though feeble, old and gray

    For you’ll never miss a mother’s love

    Til she’s buried beneath the grave.”

“Feeble, old and gray?” I thought.  “Feeble?”   

I just couldn’t help myself.  I burst out laughing. 


My mother elbowed me in the ribs, horrified. I bent over double, trying not to laugh again. Then - thank God! - someone started singing “Bye Bye Blackbird.” 

“No one here can love or understand me,” the ladies sang. I felt a strange adolescent longing rise up in my chest. I suddenly wondered what I was doing on a bus with all these sad old ladies. I couldn't wait to get out of there.


My mother invited me to play Beano a couple more times after that, but I said no. I wanted to be out having fun with my friends instead.  


Did I hurt her feelings? Maybe. She didn’t understand though. She didn’t understood a thing about me for the next 25 years.

Even as an adult, I'd spend a couple of hours with my mother, and in my mind, I'd turn into a 12 year-old on the Beano bus with a bunch of old ladies who didn't understand anything about anything.


I often tell people I was fortunate that my mother lived until she was well into her nineties. It gave me time to grow up and have an adult relationship with her. We had 20 great years at the end of her life, years when we laughed ourselves silly and thoroughly enjoyed one another’s company. We even played Beano once in a while.


Fast forward to this weekend. There are rumors of casinos in Foxboro and Revere, and at the corner store, I see Mother's Day cards next to a display of 30 different kinds of state lottery tickets. We’ve come a long way from the days of the old Beano bus.


This Mother's Day, my own mother is gone and my daughter is in Denver. I’ll be lucky if I get a text message for Mother's Day, especially since my daughter and I have been arguing for days via email and text message. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. She sees things one way. I see them another.


One of the most interesting things about being a mother is that you get to experience all those fascinating mother/daughter interactions again, only this time, instead of being the misunderstood daughter of a clueless mother, you get to play the mother role, the older woman who doesn’t know anything about anything, the one who just doesn’t understand.


I was over 40 before I was able to see my mother as just another woman, a woman who was not perfect. As I am not perfect. My mother made mistakes, she was clueless at times, she didn’t understand me, but with all our disagreements, I never doubted that she loved me completely. And I loved her back.


My daughter is in her twenties now, years before she’ll turn 40. Can I hold on that long?  


I’m betting on it.

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