Okay, folks, I’ve been minding my own business for too long. I feel it’s time to stir the pot a bit. If there’s a different take on this, I’d be THRILLED to have you respond, either on facebook or on this post. There may be aspects I’ve never thought of, that ought to be addressed, so GO FOR IT! Feel free to disagree, (politely).
Musings on Bunco
A friend asked me recently, “So you don’t ever play bunko?” The week before I had been invited to substitute for someone in the local bunko group. I’ve been asked to fill in about a half dozen times, but always declined. In the most recent case, I had said, “I never, ever play bunko.” I don’t remember if the friend that asked about it was the one I had said it to or not, but I don’t think so. She went on to explain what she enjoys about their bunko group. As she spoke I sensed that she was a little defensive. But my feelings about Bunko are somewhat complex, believe it or not, and I have never been able to think of a way to explain it to my friends without sounding ‘holier than thou.’ I know most of these gals don’t think of it this way. I understand why they like it and for that matter, I’m sure if I went, I’d enjoy the sociality too. But I never will. Here’s why.
Right after my husband (finally) finished college, we moved into a rental house in a neighborhood of older homes that were mostly all rentals in Merced, CA. We were thrilled. For the first time in our married life, we had our own fenced back yard. We had THREE bedrooms and TWO bathrooms. Oh GLORY! What luxury! Our daughter didn’t have to share a room with her two brothers! There was a rickety playhouse, a swing set and a doughboy pool in the back yard, too. Raptures!
The 1200 square foot palace was not without its detractions. The psychedelic orange and brown indoor outdoor carpet in the entryway and kitchen and eating area didn’t really go with the yellowish green “sculptured” carpet in the living room. It went fine with the burnt orange shag in the family room. But the brilliant pink color scheme in the one bedroom and the brilliant blue in the other kid room did clash with the puke green sculptured carpet that adorned the bedrooms.
The good news was that we had a burnt orange couch that went great in the family room, a yellowish green couch I successfully repaired to put into the living room and the wooden dinette set went with everything! We spent less than a hundred dollars and got all the rooms at least sparsely furnished.
We went to our new ward (church congregation assigned by geographic area,) and soon learned that there were three other families our age in our neighborhood. I was quickly called into the primary presidency and Jeff was called into the young men’s. I soon learned that the primary president was in a garden club and most of the more established women in the ward were in a book club, too. My two favorite past times! But the book club ONLY read church books.
I was uneasy, hoping I wouldn’t feel pressure to join the book club. Our monthly income was about $900 net, and our rent was $480, all by itself. Tithes, Gasoline, utilities, car insurance for our one car, a ten-year-old Datsun added up. I made all the children’s and my clothes and food came from whatever was left. The children were little and had low expectations for birthdays. There was no money, not one cent, to buy books. And if I had birthday money, I didn’t want to spend it only on Church books.
I quickly found three children to babysit while their mom worked full time. They were the exact ages of my kids and a perfect fit. Jeff got a raise after three months with the company and soon was promoted to field auditor. This meant that he was out of town every other week, but his per-diem allowed us to save money. He drove a company car on his trips, too, so I had full use of the car when he was gone. But despite our easing circumstances, I never was invited to join the book club.
I was made the Primary president, and found a very dear friend in one of my counselors. (Bunko? Remember, Beth, you’re writing about bunko?) Okay, I’m getting there. At about this time, a new gal moved into our neighborhood. She had two young children, so as primary president, I went right over to meet her and hers. I learned that she had just barely managed to get melanoma into remission. They had rented their house temporarily while they looked for something to buy. She MUST stay out of the sun, and wear sun screen and hats at all times. She was as fair and blonde and light blue eyed as you can imagine, and extremely beautiful. And she was lonely. She asked if there was anything like a book club going in our ward. I was relieved. I felt like I could NOT cut the pie of my life into one more slice. I told her that I would ask the former Primary president about her book club, but I knew that many of the women were in that one. She thanked me with great relief.
I asked the former president about the club and she said their protocol was to vote as a club for new members. Uh-oh. A month passed. The new gal asked me about it several times. I had to tell her about the vote. Finally the answer came. “No, if we grow any bigger, we won’t have room for everyone at the luncheon we ROTATE at the members’ homes. Form your own.” I realized that nobody from our neighborhood was in the club.
Remember. . .they ONLY read Church books. But no wonder they’re worried about space. . .all crowded up at the top of their Rameumpton! I thought. The new, lonely, cancer survivor, mother of two didn’t hide the big tears that rolled down her cheeks, from me. I was sick. I was ashamed…and I promise I know NOTHING about all the air being let out of the tires of cars parked outside the next book club meeting. (That’s a lasting regret, too. I DIDN’T really flatten the tires.)
I took a vow. “I will never belong to any group that is limited in number. I will never be in a position of excluding someone who wants to join with me socially based on artificial boundaries. I will never be the cause of tears to roll on the cheeks of someone in need.”
Another factor is that I still have a child at home. I already have monthly writer’s group meetings and other responsibilities that take me out of the home, but I feel the sacred charge of motherhood requires me to limit obligations that might potentially leave him more than is necessary. Lonely teenagers are vulnerable and I want to safeguard him as much as possible. Not that he can’t be left sometimes, but the cause of my leaving needs to be purposeful. He’s on a great track now, and I don’t want him to lose his way.
There are other factors about bunko, too. I know that some bishops have forbidden (or strongly advised against) bunko groups. I’m all for social gathering, but if I’m going to meet with 11 other women, I’d much rather learn from them. The local group is filled with talented, interesting, fun, capable women whose knowledge I would love to receive. I think of those 24 hands engaged in relieving some ill in the world. And there are so many ills that need relief.
I’m mildly uneasy with the element of gambling and competition. Dice games are at best a waste of time. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, it’s that I DO enjoy it. But it’s something in my personality that I want to diminish, not develop. I do play games sometimes, but in my family, where more essential ties are strengthened.
I worry that I would be trapped in the group. What if there was bickering or gossip or tension that might make me want to leave the group? I couldn’t do it without it being pointed.
It all goes back to the set number required. A bunko group must function with exactly 12. Once you’re in, you need to stay in and get a substitute when you’re absent. If you’re out, you can’t go in until the will of the party invites you. No, you can’t invite a friend unless you eliminate someone elses’ participation.
I am certain that there was no ill intent in the formation of these groups. (There are actually two in our ward, one of older ladies and one of younger.) They are women who live geographically close together and have family circumstances in common. I know that if they knew about the women who were sorry not to be included, they would respond with compassion. But I can’t think how they would fix it, with the numbers limited. The thought of a possible “form your own” response, wrings my heart. If someone is in a position to ‘form their own’ they wouldn’t be seeking entrance in the existing group.
Did you see the movie or read the book, “The Help”? I LOVE that movie/book. I think any Christian in a bunko group, should be required to see it. The circumstance in the movie that is relevant is a bridge party, but the concept is exactly the same as bunko. They’re all forced to duck down so the poor white trash girl, who is desperately lonely and doesn’t understand why she has been shunned, won’t see them there. The character happens to resemble my cancer surviving, excluded friend.
If I were in charge of the world, I would abolish groups that limit participants. I would substitute cooking groups, gardening groups, humanitarian project groups, groups that work at the local charities like the Hope center or the soup kitchen. There’s sewing, quilting, exercise, temple attendance (for the LDS) walking, horseback riders, groups that go to restaurants for lunch, groups that meet in homes for lunch, groups that sing or play instruments, read books, write books, decorate cakes, cupcakes, cookies. There are groups that take their children to the pool or the park or zoo. How about a politically active group that campaigned for a common goal? Groups could paint or decorate. (Wouldn’t a redecorating group be fun?)
All of these are open membership types of groups. They each inspire creativity, well-being or worthwhile activities, as well as positive social interaction.
Here’s my bottom line, sisters. Can’t we do better than Bunko? Oughtn’t we do better than Bunko? But then again, perhaps I’ve misjudged. I guess I wouldn’t really know. I was invited to substitute, but never invited to join.