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Traveling Bridge club comes to player – even when she’s in surgery rehab

The ladies of a traveling bridge group in Detroit Lakes made their rounds at Emmanuel to play with one of their members recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. They are, from left, Ginny Gathman, Dr. Bill Henke, Pam Grieger, Phyllis Green and Audrey Markuson. PAULA QUAM/RECORD

Pam Grieger sits up to the table, dealing cards and cracking jokes. In fact, many would believe the lively lady from Cotton Lake was the real “card” at the table.

“We play bridge to get away from our husbands,” she laughed, making the ladies around her giggle, too.

The foursome of Grieger, her bridge partner and fellow Cotton Lake resident Audrey Markuson, Ginny Gathman and Phyllis Green, both of Detroit Lakes, have been Country Club bridge players for years now.

Together, they sit all dolled up next to a pile of pastries and a deck of cards.  “Isn’t this lovely?” cooed Grieger, as the ladies nodded in agreement.

But on this day, they aren’t at the club or in the comforts of their own homes – they are in the family room of the Emmanuel Nursing Home Transition Unit in Detroit Lakes.

Grieger is recovering from reconstructive surgery on her knee. And although many would think of these medical facilities as somber, hushed environments, these ladies are making sure that a little old surgery doesn’t get in the way of life as Grieger’s three bridge buddies bring their game to her.

She was only post-op five days when Grieger’s husband, Carl, knew exactly what would cheer his wife up.  He recruited Gathman, Green and Markuson, along with their husbands, for a little bridge game right there at Emmanuel.

“I might have been just a little bit drugged up that first game,” she said with a smile and a wink.  With the group of friends all gathered around, laughing and playing bridge, Grieger knew this was just what the doctor ordered.

“This place is so wonderful,” said Grieger, “People should know that places like this don’t have to be your last stop and you should still continue to live your life and have fun no matter where you are.”

For these ladies, that means a good conversation about men and a great game of bridge.

“It’s just fun,” Grieger  said of the game, as Green added, “it’s companionship and it keeps your mind sharp.” The ladies have all been playing bridge for years, some much longer than others. 

“Everybody played bridge in the 50s,” said Markuson, “that was the thing to do.”

Grieger didn’t learn until the 1980s, but when she did, she fell in love with the game.

“I taught my husband, Carl, how to play – can you please put that in the paper? That I was the one that taught him how to play?” she joked.

The ladies all agree the Detroit Lakes Country Club was much busier in those days with its Tuesday night Bridge games.  “Oh, there were probably a couple hundred people that would come years ago,” said Gathman, acknowledging that the game seems to be dying out “Now I suppose there’s maybe 25 or so that come.”

But for this group of ladies, the game of bridge has done far more than provide them with some Tuesday night entertainment over the years.

“We get together whenever we can – sometimes we play bridge five times a week,” said Grieger, who says the Country Clubbers form friendships and break off into smaller groups that play during the rest of the week, rotating houses or locations as needed. And, she says, through those hours spent strategizing and competing for money, the strongest of friendships have been built.

“Now I’m going to cry,” Grieger said, looking around at her friends sitting there with her in the Emmanuel family room, “Every one of these girls mean the world to me, and for them to come to a nursing home to play bridge…” She grabs their hands and takes a deep breath, unable to finish as the tears start to fall.

And even through the ladies all laugh about how mad they get when they lose, it’s clear they’ve already been dealt some winning hands in each other.

For this group, the little game of cards they like to play has proven to be a bridge over their troubled waters with some really good friends standing right there with them.