American Legion Post 7 | Gainesville | 58 miles northeast of Atlanta
No one else sits at Betty Toney’s table. It’s not that she needs all that space. The 73-year-old retired hospital clerk takes up just a quarter of the rectangular surface, where she’s arranged her $27 book of Bingo sheets, her multicolored daubers, and her dinner—egg salad sandwich, plain potato chips, Dr Pepper with ice in a Styrofoam cup, and two M&M’s chocolate chip cookies. And Betty’s not alone because she’s superstitious, like Grace, who would cover the adjoining table with dozens of laminated four-leaf clovers from her yard every Thursday night for 30-some years. She died at 102. And it’s not that Betty is unpopular. She was born and raised in Gainesville and has been a Bingo Night regular since the first number was called back in 1981. No, everyone knows that the three empty chairs are in honor of Betty’s older sisters. Reba introduced her baby sis to the game. For two decades the Toney sisters played four or five times a week—girls’ nights out—starting on Monday at the Cleveland American Legion, Tuesdays in Cumming, Thursdays here, Fridays in Dawsonville, then Saturdays back in Cumming or up in Cherokee, North Carolina, at a hall that boasted a $35,000 blackout jackpot. None of the women ever struck it rich, but they were competitive, especially with each other. Reba died in 2002. Frances followed five years later. Betty and Emma Verlene played on for a decade, until Emma passed in 2014 at age 88. Betty never married, never had kids. On a fixed income, she’s cut back her Bingo to three nights a week. She plays 21 cards at a time. The next ping-pong ball is sucked from the Bingo King Autotronic machine. “O-65,” says the caller. Betty daubs the square with Emma Verlene’s old purple dauber. “Bingo!” she cries. She puts down the marker and places her palms on the table.
This article originally appeared in our May 2016 issue.