For well more than a decade, senior citizens have been convening at the Marie Fleche Memorial Library for cards and conversation.
There are very limited sounds that resonate throughout a library, like the turning of pages or the typing on keyboards.
But, if one happens to wander into the the Marie Fleche Memorial Library on any Wednesday evening, they’re sure to hear the shuffle and scatter of playing cards, as weekly pinochle has come to serve as a signature event.
Berlin resident Mary Mazakas says she can’t remember exactly when she started the regular events, but she just knows it has been running religiously every Wednesday for well more than a decade. Seeking a community setting to play cards years ago, Mazakas sought out the library as the ideal backdrop for the game of bids.
The only time Mazakas, who has lived here since 1970, can recall cancellations of the trick-taking pastimes was due to inclement weather.
“It’s a free night out and you get solization. … It’s just a friendly group. Everyone gets along well,” she said. “We’ve had no problems. We never know how many people will be here.”
She says, on any given night, the sessions, which run from 6 to 8 p.m, will see anywhere from four to 25 players take over the back room of the building.
‘The library likes us here,” Mazakas said. “They’re very good to us.”
Although Mazakas is considered the “founder,” no one is in charge, as folks simply saunter into the sessions without fees, dues or rolls calls.
And while the matches are certainly a Berlin treasure, the activities draw senior citizens from across South Jersey, as some people commute all the way from Westville simply to play cards.
“We’re willing to travel to play pinochle,” said John Lusaitis of Voorhees.
From newbies of two-year attendance to devotees of eight years, most players say they learned about the event from their local newspapers.
Players recollect being taught the game from their parents, playing the game through adolescence, college and even during service in the Vietnam War.
“It reminds me of my high school days and work days,” Lusaitis said. “It’s a game that younger people now just don’t play.”
While nearly every participant says they learned the protocols and procedures as children, they also say they’re still learning new tips and tricks from fellow players, as everyone brings their own styles and techniques to the table.
In particular, the group has adopted certain manners from Mazakas, such as one version of the game that allows players to score up to 30 points after clinching two sets of pinochles — two jacks of diamonds and two queens of spades.
“We’re generous,” Mazakas said. “We will help anyone learn how to play.”
While most participates partake in the four-person matchup, some daring players take on the five-person version, which entails a team of two players against three singles. The intense game, as described, by players requires up to 80 cards.
“It’s fun and frustrating, because you lose a lot of aces,” said Phil Mazili of Woodbury.
Although faces around the table have changed over the years, as some regular players have passed away, participants say the universal game of pinochle always serves as not only a constant but a center for conversation.
Because the group considers itself noncompetitive, players usually find themselves discussing anything but pinochle during the game.
“The personalities change. The cards change, according to the number of people you’re playing with. But the game doesn’t change,” said Berlin resident Gail Del Monte. “Everybody comes out smiling, whether they win or lose, so that’s what’s fun about it, because you meet new personalities.”
Pinochle sessions are held every Wednesday at the Marie Fleche Memorial Library from 6 to 8 p.m.