A double deck of fun

They were a formidable group -- Jimmy Cline, Anita Healy, Margaret Metzger, Joan von Gunten, and Louise Haifley -- as they sat around a large round table in the North Carroll Senior Center.

They listened to the vocal renderings of the Country and Variety Band and they played cards -- pinochle, to be exact.


Although card playing has been popular for years at the center, which has 800 members, this group has been playing together during recent months, said Cline, 83, of Arcadia.

"When new people come in, we let them join us," Cline said. "We never tell anyone they can't play. Pinochle is for everyone. It's a fun game that's easy to learn, and it's cheap."


To start the game on a recent afternoon, Margaret Metzger, 82, of Hampstead shuffled a deck of cards that includes aces, tens, kings, queens, jacks, and nines, and dealt them out four at a time.

As Metzger dealt the cards, Cline explained that the group meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from about noon to 4 p.m. to play.

"We come here and have lunch, and then play cards," he said. "We carry on the whole time. We can't hear anything because of the music, so we just sit here and yell at each other. We all have bad hearing anyway."

After the cards were dealt, the players -- split into two teams -- picked up their cards and held them close so the others couldn't see their hands.

Then the player on the left of the dealer began bidding. A player can pass, or start the bid at 30, Cline said. To bid, players examine their cards to determine their meld, or the cards or sequences of cards that are worth points. For example, a run of A-10-K-Q-J is worth 15 points.

Everyone but Haifley and Cline passed the bid Cline. Haifley, from Manchester, started at 30, and Cline countered with 31. The bidding climbed until Haifley finally said "37."

"You got it, I couldn't handle it," Cline quipped. "Louise is one of the best players around. She bets a lot and she bets well."

Haifley, who said she learned to play pinochle about 30 years ago, named trump -- the suit that takes any other suit no matter how high the card -- as hearts. The players laid down their meld, and Cline recorded it on a score pad.


After the hand was played, the players totaled their counters -- aces, tens, kings, and the nine of trump, and Cline recorded the score.

"Do you mind if we take a break?" Cline asked. With the groups' consent, Cline and Healy got up and danced cheek to cheek to a slow song.

"Those two are so wonderful. They love to get up and dance," said von Gunten, 72, of Hanover, Pa. "They take their breaks every so often and we just sit and watch until they finish."

The newest member of the group, von Gunten, started playing card games about 47 years ago with her mother-in-law and father-in-law. She said she caught on quickly.

"We didn't have so many things to do back then," she said. "So we played cards. I always picked up the card games quickly and I picked up pinochle fast, too."

Going back to card games was easy for von Gunten, who said card games help keep her mind active.


"My husband did crosswords to keep his mind sharp, and I played cards," said von Gunten, who worked in communications for Random House Inc.

When the slow dance ended, the game resumed. As the cards were dealt, Cline serenaded the group. He crooned Blueberry Hill into Healy's ear as the band played and sang the song.

"Anita's my honey," said Cline, a retired plumber. "We love coming here and playing cards and being with other people. We just do what we want, and no one minds. We like to stop and dance from time to time when they play some hot music."

Pinochle is romance and cards, said Healy, who learned to play so she could spend time with Cline. Now she enjoys the game so much she teaches a class once a month on how to play, she said. She tries to teach timid players to take risks, though she rarely does it herself, she said with a chuckle.

"I am a cautious bidder," said Healy, who was a computer support center specialist for Black & Decker. "But I try to remind people that they have a partner. They can count on them to get some points, too."

Healy of Manchester also recommended the game to anyone who wants to learn something new.


"Pinochle doesn't take a lot of energy," she said. "It uses your mind, not your body. People can play cards at any time or anywhere."

Cline said the card games give him a chance to interact and help his peers, something he rarely did as a working man, he said.

"As a plumber I never got to do anything with people because I was always working," he said. "This center gives us a place to come and spend time with people and help other people who need it."

For some players, the card games bring on a bit of nostalgia, Metzger said.

"I was brought up playing cards," said Metzger, who worked as a supervisor for Sears, Roebuck and Co. "We played with my mom and dad. So it's nice to have someone to play cards with again. We come here and just have fun. If I didn't play cards, I don't know what I would do."

As the last cards were dropped into the pile in the center of the table, Metzger let out a resounding, "Woo-hoo!"


"I finally took one," she said smiling. "We didn't win a game, but it sure is fun."