Queens of rummy hold court at Fairway Village

Group of women have been gathering weekly for years for cards, cammaraderie

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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photoPat Dial looks at her cards during the weekly Shanghai Rummy game at the Fairway Village Clubhouse.

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Rules of Shanghai Rummy

FAIRWAY VILLAGE — Kathy Ruble leaned back in her chair and smiled slyly at her three competitors, sliding the winnings from a round of Shanghai in her small, sock-shaped purse.

"I'm going to take everybody to lunch with this," the 65-year-old joked, sealing her grand prize of a dime inside.

About 20 women, ranging in age from about 60 to 90, laughed and gently ribbed each other as they squared off — four to a table — at the Fairway Village Clubhouse on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Many have been playing in the community's weekly game of Shanghai, a Rummy card game, for more than two decades.

And the ante, 35 cents each for a seven-round game, hasn't changed in at least that long, said Elizabeth McCoy, 75.

"It's high stakes," she said with a laugh.

The winner of each round, in which players try to get combinations of runs or three-of-a-kinds, gets 10 cents. At the end of seven rounds, the person with the lowest total score (which is the best score, like golf) for all rounds takes the remaining 70 cents in the pot.

But as you might be able to tell, the money's not really the point.

"It's fun and you can chat," McCoy said. "It's not serious, like bridge."

Women in the game, who all live in the 55-and-older community of Fairway Village, come from a variety of different backgrounds. Ruble worked for Regents Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Oregon before retiring. Pat Dial, 77, was a flight attendant with United Airlines. McCoy worked in newspaper display advertising. And Maggie Burnham, 81, ran an international transportation company.

Ruble is the newest recruit to the Shanghai group, which has been a great way to meet neighbors who live around the 9-hole golf course, she said.

"There are so many things to do in the clubhouse, so many activities," Ruble said.

Along with several card games, residents also have clubs for golfing, bocce, hiking, singing and many other things. In the spring, summer and fall, many residents enjoy walking along the course and getting outside, but in the winter, cards become more dominant, the women added.

No matter the season, though, the weekly Shanghai game never fails to draw somewhere between 20 and 30 people, they said.

"They're a really good group," said Suzanne Brandt, 91, as she joked with other players from across the room. "We're all just a little crazy. You have to be, around here."

As she was speaking, another player at her table quickly tossed in her last card to win the round.

"Yikes, she's down!" Pauline Williams, 80, said as she painfully tallied the cards she had left. "Holy catfish!"

Some of the players say the fast-paced game has helped keep their minds active.

"We had one member that's 105 now, and she played up till she was 100," Dial said. "She's still very sharp."

Because of the 55-plus community age requirement, several players in the group have died over the years -- although members still talk about them fondly, said McCoy, who's been playing for 21 years.

"It's a problem in living in a community like this," McCoy said. "You lose a lot of friends."

At her table, three of the women had lost their husbands.

"It's good socializing, because some of the ladies live alone," McCoy said. "I'm the only one at this table that still has a husband at home."

Another minor drawback of living on a golf course is the occasional smash and crackle of errant golf balls flying through windows, they said.

"There's a window company that replaces a lot of windows," Burnham said. "They're out here almost every day."

The 250-acre community was built in 1982 and has about 1,200 residents in 696 homes and 128 condos. No children younger than 18 are allowed to live there, but adults younger than 55 can live with homeowners on the premises as associate members. Each member and associate member pays annual dues of $381, said Samantha Lilienthal, office assistant.

Generally, homes vary in price from the mid-$200,000 range into the $400,000 range and condo prices run from the $100,000 to $200,000 range, she said.

While deaths do create an inevitable turnover, many neighbors remain there for decades and build long-term friendships, the women in the Shanghai group said.

"If you get to be 90, you play golf for free," Burnham noted, a slight hint of envy in her voice.

As the final round of the hour-and-a-half-long game drew to a close, Dial tried to snag a card from the stack in a move called a "buy," but was blocked by McCoy.

"I really, really wanted that," Dial said, cocking her eyebrow at her friend.

"I really, really didn't want you to have it," McCoy said with a grin.

Burnham, who hadn't taken a round in the game, winced, jokingly adding, "You see how she is?"

But the block was in vain. Right after, Dial flipped her remaining cards on the table and took the round, collecting her final dime and the 70 cent lowest-score pot.

"Thank you ladies," she said.