Group forms friendships over Bingo table

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

Different ages, different races, different genders, different hometowns — with just a quick glimpse it would be easy to say Glenn Williams, Henry Fleming, Lynn Smith and Charles Martien have nothing in common.

But a shared address brought the four together.

All are residents at Adams County Nursing Center in Natchez, and from that bond a friendship was born.

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Other nursing center residents and staff commonly refer to the foursome as the “bingo group.”

“I can say for a fact if it wasn’t for us all living here, we wouldn’t be friends,” Fleming said. “I’m the only one in the group that is from Natchez, so we probably wouldn’t have even met had it not been for this place.”

Born and raised in Natchez, Fleming still has many family members in the area, and days when he can spend time with them are the good days.

But while Fleming said nothing beats making memories with family, having friends to share those memories with at the end of the day gives him something to come “home” to.

Fleming said moving into a nursing facility is a major lifestyle change for most people, and being able to make good friends is one of the things that helped make the transition easier for him.

If he hadn’t been open to making new friends “on the inside,” Fleming said adjusting to a new style of life at a nursing center would have been difficult, if not impossible.

“I’m a friendly person and open to new people,” he said. “That part of my personality made it easier for me than people who might not be as open.”

Fleming isn’t alone in his feelings, in fact, all the members of the bingo group agreed that forming meaningful friendships with their neighbors is what makes living in an unfamiliar environment less scary, less intimidating and less unnerving.

“I would think without friends, it would be lonely living anywhere, but especially if you’ve left family and friends behind,” Martien said. “When new people come in, I try to talk to them and make them feel welcome, because I know that helps a lot.”

Martien is a Louisiana native and lived for years in the Concordia Parish area. He said while his address may be the Adams County Nursing Facility, his heart is across the river with his children and grandchildren.

“They come over here to visit me a good bit,” he said. “I’m lucky to be able to watch my grandchildren grow up.”

When he isn’t telling stories of his grandchildren, Martien keeps tabs on his favorite sports team — the LSU Tigers.

“There are a good many Tiger fans in town, but here I’m outnumbered,” he said. “There seem to be more Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans for some reason.”

What brought Fleming, Martien, Smith and Williams together was the enjoyment of the simple game of bingo. Bingo games happen three times a week, and it’s a sure bet that each member of the four-person strong bingo group will be at the table listening as numbers are called.

“Wednesdays and Saturdays are 25 cents a game,” Williams said. “Tuesday is the big money day when games are 50 cents each.

“You won’t find too many times when we aren’t all there playing.”

Martien is considered the biggest bingo threat, but Williams and Fleming are stiff competition as well, Smith said.

“It seems like it is always one of them that wins,” she said. “But it is fun, win or lose, to play with friends”

But, it isn’t just bingo that keeps the friendship going.

The group also participates in other entertaining and informative activities sponsored by the nursing center like annual trips to the Natchez Christmas parade, dinners outside of the center and programs at the center.

And they frequently enjoy meals together in the dinning room.

“The chicken and dumplings are good,” Smith said. “Usually, the food here is good, but sometimes you just want something else.”

For Smith, the only lady in the group, finding friends was a priority from day one at Adams County Nursing Center.

Originally from Tensas Parish, Smith left Louisiana less than 10 years ago to be closer to family in Oklahoma. For her coming back south meant leaving that branch of her family behind.

“It was hard at first because I liked seeing my family often,” she said. “But that’s why I talked to people here, so I could make friends and have a family here.

“We become family for each other.”

Being family for each other means offering a supportive, listening ear when things are going well and enjoying good days together, Williams said.

“You know when one of us is down and we kind of rally around each other,” he said. “In many ways we function more like family than friends, but that is what makes our friendship special.”

Williams moved to the Natchez facility from Brookhaven about two years ago. When first coming to Natchez, he spent a good deal of time alone, and still enjoys quiet days in his room watching movies.

“You have to have some time to yourself, but you can’t be alone all the time,” he said. “You have to get out and talk to your friends and catch up on the news.”

In the nursing center atmosphere, friendships tend to form faster, Martien said.

“You don’t know how much time you are going to have together as friends,” he said. “When you make good friends like these, you have to make the most of the time you have together.

“Around here, it isn’t uncommon to make a friend and lose that friend in a few weeks or months.”