Summary: This story is a little history of gambling for a good cause in Virginia City with Hoss playing a starring role.
Word Count: 1089
“Hey, Pa, you know that Reverend that was here when the Mahans and the Clarks was fighting over them two little ones? Well, Pa, he’s back. Says he’s got a way for the church to make enough money to rebuild. That fire done a lot of damage, but he says even people who aren’t part of our church will be more than willing to give money to the church for rebuilding with this idea he’s got.”
“Hoss, what could he possibly do to get people to give money to a church to rebuild even if they don’t go to that church?”
“I dunno, Pa, but he said that it was a game, and that it was a sort of voluntary tax. I don’t know what he meant by that.”
Adam joined the conversation then. “That’s what Thomas Jefferson called a lottery run by the government. People willingly give their money to the government to buy a chance at winning a fortune even if the odds are terrible, because they enjoy the sport of the game so much. Is that what he plans to do? I can’t see our church willing to be part of gambling.”
“I dunno, but he said it was a game that will be played at county fairs and at churches all over the country in the future. How do you suppose he knows that?”
“Well, son, did he tell you when we would be playing this so-called game?”
“He said maybe we could play it at our church picnic on Sunday, and he gave me this box of letters and this stack of cards. He said I was going to be the caller and pick a disk out of this cigar box and say it real loud. Then people put a bean for a marker on that letter if it’s on their card. First one to five in a row up, down, or across any which way wins.”
“How does this bring money to the church?” Ben was puzzled.
“Well, you see, people pay for the cards. He said people can play more than one card at a time too. Joe, you want to practice with me?” Joe was eager and soon Ben and Adam were sitting at the dining table playing the game too.
Adam found the game a bit boring until he played eight cards at once, but he could see that many people would like it, and it was a very social game. “Now explain more about how this raises money.”
“We sell a card for two bits, and we give two silver dollars as a prize to the winner. Then everybody turns their cards back in unless they want to pay two bits apiece to keep ‘em or they can pay for a new card or cards. Any extra we get to keep. We only need to sell eight cards to break even. Any more than that is money to fix up the church again. I was thinking that the three of you could be in the first game and kinda show people how it’s done.”
“Hoss, hey, Hoss, I think I won.”
“Joe, then you gotta say ‘Bean-o’ real loud. Then I got to check your card to make sure it matches the letters I called.”
“Oh, you have to check. Never mind. I guess I didn’t win yet.”
Adam smirked as Ben rolled his eyes. Hoss frowned at Joe. “You cain’t be cheating at a church game, now, Little Joe. It ain’t ever right, but cheating the church is downright sinful.”
“All right, all right. I won’t try any shortcuts.”
“Shortcuts! So that’s what he’s calling them now. Shortcuts! An interesting euphemism.”
“Adam, a what?”
“Another word for cheating.”
“Oh, why didn’t you jest say that then? Joe, no cheating! And I mean it.”
“I’m sure your younger brother will take this very seriously, won’t you, Joseph?” And that steely look with those two dark eyes seeming to bore into him made Joe nod in agreement. This was one of those times he knew he had to be on his best behavior. Hoss nodded. He looked forward to his place of prominence as the caller at the church picnic for the new fund raising game.
On Sunday at the church picnic, Hoss got his family to help him set up several tables and place signs that he and Adam had made. He explained the game to those in attendance who came near out of curiosity. For the first game, his family bought cards as did Roy Coffee, Paul Martin, and Clementine Hawkins who sat very close to Ben. “For help with me cards, Ducky.”
They played a total of twenty cards. After only ten calls, Joe jumped up. “Eureka! Bonanza! It’s a miracle! Halloo! Woo hoo! Bingo!”
“Joe, now just you settle down. Does that mean you won? You know you’re supposed to yell out ‘Bean-o’ if you win. I gotta check your card now to make sure you won and didn’t cheat none.”
A few of the men had imbibed a fair amount of heavily spiked punch by that time. “Hey, you, Bean-o. Let the kid call it whatever he wants. I kinda like that ‘Bingo’ one myself.” His friends all nodded at the great wisdom of their leader.
“Will you play if we call out ‘Bingo’ instead of ‘Bean-o’?”
“Sure, we will. Hey, can I call you Bean-o?”
“If you buy at least four cards each, you can.”
“All right. It’s a deal, Bean-o. Here’s my dollar. Hand over them four cards. Hey, fellas, dig out a dollar for your cards. We’re gonna play this here game.”
So Virginia City Bingo was born, and news of the new game spread through town and brought more people to the picnic on a quiet Sunday afternoon when there wasn’t much else to do in town. It was the biggest church picnic the town had ever seen before that day. For that afternoon, Hoss had a new nickname that re-emerged at every church picnic thereafter. In just one afternoon with his family helping, Bean-o managed to call out enough letters and sell enough cards to pay for nearly one fourth of the needed renovations to the church. At every church picnic after that, Bean-o was reborn, calling out letters for his family and friends and anyone else who wanted to play until the ripe old age of ninety-one when his oldest son took over the job and the nickname.