DRY TAVERN –They sat at two tables, strategizing over the hands they were dealt while trying not to think about what was to come. It was a familiar scene for host Hazel Welling Muskavitch and her sister, Janet Welling Matteucci. After all, they were the ones who started the whole thing 60 years ago. But Nov. 15, the Dry Tavern Card Club dealt its final hand of 500 bid.
Janet likes to joke that the club started when she was just 2 years old. The ladies admit that the most recent members range in age from early 70s to well into their 90s, although looking around the room, one would be hard pressed to guess which category they all fell into.
“It was 1952 when we started. Janet had one child, and I was pregnant with my fourth,” said Muskavitch. “We decided we needed a night out so we called six or so of our friends, and that was how it got started. We have been meeting on the second Wednesday of every month ever since.”
The Welling sisters learned the game as small girls, a game considered an extension of euchre.
“My parents used to play it. There were four couples who met on Saturday nights in Mather (where they grew up) to play this game. They took the kids along since there were no baby sitters back then,” Matteucci said. “They played in the living room, and we kids played in the kitchen.”
Matteucci said the members of the Dry Tavern Card Club have come and gone through the years, but the game always continued. The ladies would simply call up a friend or acquaintance and ask them to play. Matteucci estimated there had been at least 20 women who joined their circle. Among them were payroll clerks, grocers, a newspaper correspondent and school teachers. Muskavitch and player Margaret Ferrari are veterans.
Muskavitch is known as the card shark among the group, feigning to forget how the game goes after six decades or saying the blacks and deep reds on the deck this time are two close in color to see. The others at the table call her out on it as she says, “Hey, look at my hand, what can I do with it?”
“Don’t let her fool you; she knows what she is doing,” said Carol Harrison of Khedive. “She always wins. She bids on nothing and makes it. She springs it on you.” Later, Muskavitch would enter the kitchen with a huge grin proclaiming she had won all four hands played to that point while Harrison just shook her head.
Harrison had not yet played on this particular day, serving as the alternate. She said a conclusion to the club became more and more apparent, especially after Matteucci moved to Pittsburgh over a year ago.
“She wanted us to see her place so we played there once. She rented a limo to takes us to go play cards,” Harrison said, smiling. “Never before in my life did I go in a limousine. That’s how much it meant to her. They have seen each other through the deaths of husbands and stuff and they needed this. I needed this.”
She said she isn’t sure how they will all stay in touch now but said she knows they will, despite the fact the games are ending.
As one listened to the stories being told and watched the interactions between the nine women who gathered, it became clear that playing cards was always secondary.
Muskavitch, who occasionally wiped away a tear, would quip that the food may have also had something to do with it, although she proclaimed that she hates to cook. For emphasis she added, “I do, I literally do.”
The others seem shocked at her proclamation. There were always treats before the games, even when they were played at Muskavitch’s residence, like this final day. That was when the ladies shared over food what was happening in their lives and their communities.
At times the talk was heavy but there was also much laughter and joy discussing the lives of their children, from birth to those same kids eventually making them grandmothers. That is what made the end harder to talk about than the years leading up to it.
“I bought a cake for today and I thought about what to put on it. The last hurrah didn’t work. That’s when I thought about the song, ‘Thanks for the Memories,’ and they have been great memories,” Muskavitch said, wiping one more tear. “I hate to see ’em go.”