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Around the Foothills

"We play for a whole dollar."

June 15, 1989|DOUG SMITH

Nineteen women of the Glendale Auxiliary to Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles got through the earthquake Monday with only a couple of startled exclamations and hardly a moment's distraction.

They were gathering, just when the quake struck, in the Verdugo Room on the ninth floor of the Casa de la Paloma retirement home on Kenwood Avenue. They came to play bridge, canasta and bingo. Though the building swayed and bounced, they were not deterred.

As soon as all was still, they distributed themselves at the gaming tables--two card tables for bridge, one for canasta and a conference table for bingo.

They were quickly engrossed in deep concentration and the chatter of card talk.

"This is my last one, isn't it?" said Phyllis Weaver. "So I think I will dirty this one."

She "dirtied" a row of cards on the table by dropping her joker on top.

"This doesn't take the brains that bridge does," said Betty Anderson, who was on the opposing team. "There are some of us that don't like to tax the mind."

Actually, they love to tax their minds. It's their way of rewarding themselves for a lifetime of volunteer labor.

The auxiliary was organized in 1923 as a sewing group. From that year on, without fail, its members have gotten together once a month at a bank of sewing machines, crafting the little items of domestic need at the hospital. They made bibs, layettes and restraining straps mostly.

A few years ago they decided they could do more. They rented a storefront on south Glendale Avenue and opened a thrift store in 1970.

It took 20 women to drive around town picking up salvage, and to keep the store in order.

This year, with some regrets, they decided they had had enough.

"We lost several members last year," Murdock said. "A few of the ladies have grown older and couldn't do it and those who could couldn't spend enough days of the month. We have three more moving out of the area."

New members have been tough to get. Today, more women are going to work. Fewer are volunteering.

Gradually, the Glendale auxiliary became a group of older women.

"We got too old, I guess," a woman at the bingo table said. "That's the best way to put it."

In February they closed the doors to the thrift store. It seemed logical to discontinue the sewing operation at the same time. The need for the women's handiwork had declined.

"The hospital was not supplying us with enough work," Murdock said. "They have gone to disposables and nonflammable garments. Nonflammable materials are too difficult for us to work on. They have to purchase them these days."

As its last formal act, the group sold off its 16 sewing machines.

But the women didn't want to break up.

"We've all known each other for so long and we're all so old, we better stick together," said Mary Underdown.

Three of their members lived in Casa de la Paloma. They talked to the manager, who offered its recreation room once a month, rent free.

Each woman puts a dollar in the kitty to play. Murdock sends the money along to Childrens Hospital, as the group' contribution.

Several of the women, including Murdock, continue to pick up goods for the Childrens Hospital's thrift store on Sunset Boulevard. Murdock also spends one day a week at the Salvation Army hospital, rubbing the lint off the laundry for surgery.

But more or less, the Glendale auxiliary is now just in it for fun.

"It's social," Murdock said.

That doesn't mean it's particularly noncombative, especially at the bridge tables, where the language can grow intense.

"Did you see that?" Underdown said smugly, sweeping up a trick.

"You stole that from me," said Ethel Eisenhauer. "You shouldn't have done that."

Underdown got distracted a moment, trying to explain the complicated rules of bridge. She drew a card from her hand when she should have taken one from the table.

"In your hand, Mary," an opponent snapped. "We're not going to let you."

They played vigorously for better than an hour. Then two of them switched chairs to rearrange the teams.

"We just alternate all around so there's no snobbery, no cliques," Eisenhauer explained.

"At the end, the one who has the highest score gets the money," one said. "We play for a whole dollar."

"This will be our last game," Eisenhauer announced shortly before noon.

"We can come back and play, can't we?" Underdown demanded. Of course they could.

At noon, they broke cake and conversation.

They sang Happy Birthday for Gladys Herrick, exchanged news from Louise Gray, who is in a nursing home, and remembered Ida Prentice, who died May 31.

Then they went back to the gaming tables and played into the afternoon. The monthly meetings will go on as long as the women are interested, Murdock said. But the work is over, even the cake and cookie bake that the women held each year for the hospital's annual doll fair.

"I asked them if they wanted to bake them again this year," Murdock said. "They said, 'No.' "

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