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Prime Time: Youngsters try their hands at gambling

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News Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

I cannot leave grade school until I share the story of our great gambling experiment.

Bobby Burns, who later moved to Marshall (how could he do such a thing?) came up with the idea that we needed to start a casino. I can't imagine how he came up with that idea. There were no Las Vegas series on TV - there was no TV reception in Tracy until a few years later. But he did, and we decided to form a casino.

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We met at Bobby's house and sat around the kitchen table. I don't know where the cards and tokens came from. My mother would not allow us boys to play cards. Somehow she was convinced they were the Devil's handmaiden! But when I was around 27, Bob and I were playing cards with Don in Two Harbors at Don's house. Suddenly Mom pulled up a chair and said she wanted to also play. We three boys were totally shocked.

"Mom! You don't know how to play cards!"

"I sure do. When I was teaching, we girl teachers played 500 all of the time."

The old "Do what I say and not what I do." She turned out to be a real shark!

Well, Bobby, Doc (Don Robinson), Curt Jette, Bob Stelter, Bill Knutsen and I sat around like old pros. All we needed was a smoky room and visors, and we would have fit right in at Vegas. The only game we knew was poker. We didn't know the difference between the various types of poker, but I am sure it was stud poker; at least we used five cards.

Toothpicks were our chips. We were so frugal that we broke them in half. We shouted, jumped up and down and slammed our winning hands on the table as if we were wagering $100 a point. You would swear we were in fact in Vegas.

My youngest brother, Dave, and his wife came to visit in Chicago. We decided to go out to Washington Park where the buggy races are held. Uncle Ano, my wife's uncle, was horrified when he learned his niece had previously gone out to Arlington Park with a friend. At Arlington the regular races are run on horseback. Uncle Ano was so upset that he came over to our apartment and taught us how to read a racing form.

"If you're going to go gamble, at least I am going to show you how to place a proper bet."

Well, I taught Dave how to read the form, and the four of us figured we could afford a dollar on each race. I ended the night with $13, and Dave was equally successful. We stood at the fence jumping up and down and shouting as if we were wagering big money. That's the way we guys were behaving at Bobby's Casino.

After a few weeks, Merle Mickelson joined us. He hooted when he saw the toothpicks. He suggested we play for pennies. The rest of us gulped as if we were really entering a different world. After several games Merle said we had to raise the bids to a nickel, and we did. Again the anxiety level of the rest of us went through the roof. When Merle said we should try quarters, we bit our lips and agreed.

I won that hand and said: "That's it! No more!"

The gang said: "Hey, give a chance to win our money back."

I said, "No. I can't stand the tension. I'm leaving."

Well, that was the end of the casino. Our adventure into the world of gambling was over, and we were never thought about it again.

When I look back at it now, I realize there are so many gambles in life that I don't have to add any more pressure. Driving through traffic, taking on the challenge of a new job or a new day, struggling with problems that none of us is able to avoid - Wow! We don't need manufactured ways of creating tension. I loved shooting baskets, a simple game of HORSE or a two-on-two was great fun. I seldom get to play bridge, and the concentration it requires is a fulfilling challenge. I don't begrudge my friends who travel to Vegas. What a great way to take a break! A neighbor visited there once a year. He took in shows, but when it came to gambling, he set a predetermined limit: put it in his front pocket, and when it was gone, that was the end of it for him. He said he realized only the house would come out ahead in the end.

Occasionally I buy a lottery ticket. I feel as if I might as well walk out the door and throw the dollar into the wind. But at times the buck is worth a momentary fantasy of riches, but nothing more.

I received a letter from Dave and Betty Abernathy last week. They mentioned how much fun we had without electronics. We created our own fun. I am sure our children and grandchildren have marvelous imaginations, but I sure appreciate the world which the '40s and '50s enabled me to expand through a variety of experiences.

Mom and Dad were readers.

Occasionally Mom said, "Books enable me to go any place in the universe I want to."

I was so happy that when she was around 80, Rolf took her on a trip to Europe and especially to Norway where her ancestors emigrated from. She had pictures and wrote a diary of everywhere they went. The trip put flesh on some of her dreams.

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Pioneer staff reports
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