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. . . And Bingo Is Her Game-O! : Nearly every Thursday for the past three years, Mary Mandile of Yorba Linda has gotten her hair done and joined friends at the Pope John Paul II center. Turning 100 won't change that.

July 05, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

YORBA LINDA — Maybe this is how they envision heaven, these 150 or so people playing bingo Thursday night at Pope John Paul II church.

In a hall separated by a sliding partition from the worship area (where the Masses are held in English and Polish), TVs are mounted on the walls, showing the latest bingo ball to emerge from a pneumatic chute. Curtains of the same orange and brown print fabric that surround the windows are pulled back to reveal an electronic bingo scoreboard. From a poster, a Pope smiles down beneficently on the players. On another wall are playful cartoons, including one of the devil titled "Bingo Caller."

The actual bingo caller sits on a small platform where five small American flags stand, breeze-less in front of a special desk into which is built the bin where the numbered balls are kept percolating by jets of air.

In a smooth, level voice that sounds like it could continue for eternity, the announcer reads the numbers over a small, warmly distorted sound system, "I-twenty-fo-were, that's I-two-fo-were. . . O-seventy, O-seven-zer-ooo. . . N-thirty-eight, N-three-eight. . . G-fifty-five, that's G-fi-yive-fi-yive. . ."

All is placid but for that voice, except for the soft sound of daubers--big high-lighting pens--marking the numbers off on the bingo cards, as they are called.

Despite the seeming calm, there is an underlying tension so thick you could gum through it without dentures. And when there is a cry of "Bingo!" it breaks the calm like a pistol shot, followed by a near pandemonium of everyone talking at once, most exclaiming how close they'd come to winning.

If this isn't heaven, it's close enough for Mary Mandile.

She sits at a table in the middle of the hall, with twinkling eyes and one of the most simple, blissful smiles you'd ever hope to see. She turns 100 this Sunday, and for the past three years, since her daughters introduced her to the game at Pope John Paul II, she's scarcely missed a week.

"I feel good," she says, with the certitude of a James Brown. "I feel happy when I'm playing bingo. When I win, I'm happy. When I don't, I keep calm and cool."

That's not to say she doesn't get caught up in the game. When she wins she calls out "Bingo!" with the best of them and waves her arms in the air.

She's become so enamored of gambling, said her daughter Rose Forte, that "she'll spend 12 or 14 hours at the slot machines in Las Vegas. Once we were in tears we were so hungry, and she wouldn't stop. Finally we got a security guard to go tell her they were closing the casino down. That's the only way we got her out of there."

*

"You don't disturb these people when they're playing. They're die-hards," said Jim Hanson, 68, the bingo manager at the church. He pointed out the Kewpie dolls, stuffed animals and other good luck charms players bring each week. He doesn't especially enjoy the game himself, though he does admit to a bit of gambling:

"In (Mandile's) first year here, when she was turning 97, I told her, 'If you get here on your 100th birthday, I'll give you a thousand bucks.' I was gambling, and she won and I lost," he said with a laugh.

During the bingo this Thursday night he's providing cake and ice cream to celebrate her birthday. The bingo event--which raises $50,000 a year for Orange County children's charities through the Knights of Columbus--can't just give Mandile the $1,000, so Hanson says they're having a special raffle where no one will be surprised if she wins.

To Hanson, it isn't just Mandile's age that makes her special.

"It's that she's always so damn happy," he said. "She just sits there happy, waiting for that bingo. She's just the way you wish you could be when you get older. I could walk in this room and show you a lot of grouches that are only 65 or 75. She puts so many people to shame. She's 100 and happy."

*

Mandile was a housekeeper most of her life, starting when she was orphaned at age 12. Her mother died of influenza, followed two years later by her father, who, family members relate, died of a broken heart. Mandile quit the eighth grade to help a grandmother raise her four siblings. Later she was busy with five children of her own. Her husband died in 1978.

"She wasn't the sort who went out and did things. She was always home for us," said daughter Alberta DiLorenzo. "She worked hard all her life, but not in the outside world. She was a homebody who was always there for us five children, and that was that. She's been getting out more in the last three years with the bingo than she has all her life."

Mandile lives with daughter Forte in Yorba Linda. DiLorenzo lives in Placentia, visits often and takes her mother to the beauty parlor every Thursday to prepare for her big night out. Forte maintains: "I think its right that the elderly should be with you at home as long as possible. I hope the day never comes that we have to put her in a home."

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