My Dad was born in England and emigrated with his family to Nashua in 1913 at the age of three. After track and academics at Nashua High School he ventured to the University of New Hampshire for his Engineering degree and a lifelong career with Colgate-Palmolive as a sales representative for detergents and soaps required by the mills across New England to wash their wool and textile. Dad’s accounts ranged from Rhode Island to northern Maine.
UNH had a great contract bridge following, including a student named Clare who became his lifelong partner and my Mother. Dad was fascinated with the technical play of the hand (“nothing like a good squeeze” he used to say) but my Mother liked the poker aspect of outbidding the opponents. In their day, the game was called Auction Bridge and my Mother’s idea of an auction was to “bid ‘em up and see what happens!”
They were a fixture at the Calumet Club in Manchester, which closed in the Seventies. They played in dozens of NH State Bridge championships, prestigious events held at high society places like the Manchester Country Club. This was a coat and tie affair with newspaper columnists from the Union Leader and outlying papers writing down many an animated post mortem, poured out over a post-Prohibition libation. Mom and Dad never won a darn thing in those State championships but they loved to say they came soooo close – which is the intellectual beauty of our game, isn’t it? – that we all have the same chance, at the start of every hand and selection of every card, to beat the other guy?
One anecdotal story comes to mind when they lived in Willimantic, Connecticut. This was the late 1930s and my Dad was yet to discover his role as a US Navy officer in WW II and my Mother a Writers Project Administration writer Roosevelt’s emerging federal employment projects. They rented an apartment for six months downstairs to a charming couple who played bridge – or so they said – and a game was set for 7 pm the following Saturday.
My parents arrived upstairs for the game but, alas, the Olivers had no bridge table or cards. My parents retrieved our well-worn folding table from downstairs and brought with them their very best Kem cards. They sat down to the game. Mrs. Oliver stated that she really wasn’t much of a player and perhaps they could refresh the rules for her, but that her husband really loved the game. No one minded in the least, and the game set sail.
What a game! They played for six hours. All the while my Dad couldn’t help but think that this guy named Oliver was peeking at his cards: he was often finding himself excruciatingly end-played or forced to break suits in the most unfavorable way. One hand, my Dad swears he held three four-card suits, each with both the Jack and Ten, and his hand took no tricks! (Just imagine a hand such like JT98, JT98, x, JT98 and try to discard as that second Diamond is played… ouch!) "What gives?" was my Dad’s thought.
My Mother had a similar observation. While Mrs. Oliver could not bid at all, Mr. Oliver seemed to take everything in stride, the pair landing on their feet almost each time. Could he read her own Kem cards? At game’s end, as the table was folded up to take downstairs and the ladies were clearing the plates and glasses, my Dad glanced at the mantle over their fireplace. There on the right was a 14” bronze trophy, engraved: