The Bridge to Rochester

In brief, my wife, Lynn, terminally ill with a rare, incurable pulmonary disorder, rose to the top of the recipient list for a double lung transplant in June 2011.  In anticipation of her rapidly declining health, we moved to Rochester, MN, in our vintage travel trailer, to await the call..

The scope of her illness, surgeries, prolonged hospitalization, and modest but slow recovery is very personal and not the subject matter.

In a hospital corridor, I had a brief conversation with a chaplain, who described a blog program called Caring Bridge, a personalized patient website to elaborate on your health journey ( imagine facebook ® for the faltering).  This did not interest me at all.  But the tangential reference to bridge, a game I had nearly forgotten and abandoned decades earlier, created a spark.  First, imagine you are living in an aluminum womb, in an unfamiliar city, transients in an RV park. Waiting. Waiting.  Excitement was defined by the weekly visit from the oxygen provider, a new neighbor moving in perhaps with a pet dog to fraternize with my Jack, or a long walk on one of the 85 miles of trails.

On a lark, a search revealed, and, hence, an attempt to find a game and partnership.  What followed was extraordinary.  In lieu of the 24/7 attention necessary for Lynn’s care, bridge became a brief, welcome escape for two to three sessions each week.  No other activity, no sanity safety net, could have cured the loneliness and detachment from friends and family.


My approach to the game, while not flippant, was clearly irreverent.  Urged to join the national club, I soon adapted to the innovative bidding box, and began to explore the game’s progress since Charles Goren, the guru of the 60’s (he died in 1991).  Able to secure games, often at the very last minute due to the vagaries of hospital activity, clinic appts., and the volatility of Lynn’s condition, nearly 40 different partners plunged into the darkness and together we gained an equal number of coveted “points” in the nine months.


The purpose of writing is to quietly honor all my partners and opponents for their kindness.  Every gesture, consolation, pat on the shoulder, no matter how seemingly insignificant, provided grateful relief for a damp hankie in the medical Maytag® rinse cycle.

Joyce W. and Sue G.

As a group, do not be deceived, these people are clever, skilled in skullduggery, and neither generous nor sympathetic while holding 13 cards.  Bridge is war; firearms, knives, and nuclear devices are disallowed and must be left at the door, but who knows, the ACBL rules may one day be revised. At times I felt like the third string place kicker on the HS football team, facing the Minnesota Vikings linebacker defense.

‘Did you hear who has to play with Charlie today ?’ 


However, behind the tableside veneer, I found the players to be fascinating, intelligent, suitable characters in an Agatha Christie mystery, a joy to discover.

Dave H., Arne F., and Nate P., preparing for battle


The polite façade provided cover for hidden modesty:

  • A principal in the largest U.S.A. sweater manufacturer
  • A deposed seed company executive
  • A non-practicing obstetrician
  • A child survivor of parent Holocaust victims
  • A crowned Miss Agriculture, mid 1960s, Iowa State Fair
  • A foreign service officer, post 1983 invasion, island of Grenada
  • A rural, dirt-poor, S. Dakota prairie child, one of seven, in a one bedroom house, one cold water tap, and an outdoor latrine
  • A classmate of Hillary (nee Rodham) Clinton at Maine East High, 1963-4, Park Ridge, IL
  • A PhD, UCLA, molecular biology
  • A retired Manitoban, expert in wildlife photography


Not one, in this educated, learned society of crafty players, admitted to working for the CIA, spending time in the witness protection program, incarceration, or being the subject of outstanding felony warrants.  This does not preclude any absence of guilt.  My secret desire was to become the Pope, but the stodgy church hierarchy insisted that (a) you had to be Catholic, (b) study Latin, (c) unmarried.   Prerequisites designed to eliminate the worthy, sooo…..instead of a filling a vacancy in the Vatican, I’m in a room in Rochester.  And every room has a purple elephant; the RAC meeting room, a haze of magenta, and I’m dreaming of driving, yes, the popemobile;


Profound gratitude to Rich and Sue Greenberg for welcoming us, to Minnesota, their home, and the bridge table.  Words are inadequate for Sue, the officers, game directors, and volunteers who make the game so pleasant….not to be taken for granted, find a moment to thank them, for the least expensive $4 entertainment bargain in Olmsted County.  Better than cheap gin.

The time in Rochester was special; a confluence of memorable events never to be duplicated.  Your time and my space won’t allow the mention of all your names, but you know who you are.  The likelihood that I will continue bridge is less than zero.  I’m told you can play “online”, a few clicks here and there, but  my self-imposed computer time is limited to less than an hour each day.  I’ve confirmed that time and interactions are better spent in the tangible world.  Time, especially in our golden age, is the only thing you own for certain, and the computer is an un-indicted burglar of time.


A personal trifecta ; Lynn’s ongoing care, maintenance of an 1855 farmhouse, and a fleet of old cars in the barn, are schedule enough.  I do read the newspaper bridge column to Jack, but he insists on being south (always the declarer) and seeing all four hands at once, so I have to partner with a stuffed bear.

you reneged again, you’re the jack of spades, this is the jack of hearts”

Since too few fellow players had actually seen my wife, there was speculation that no such person existed, that she was a fictitious character in a contrived sympathy scam.  Below, photographic evidence, untouched, after a Sunday afternoon ride and an hour under the hood sniffing motor ether.


When we return to Rochester for brief follow-up visits to the clinic, I’ll make an attempt to find a partner for a session or two.  When I pull the red ‘alert’ card, it won’t be to describe an obscure convention signal, but to warn the table,  “I’m packing heat in the form of a .357 magnum”.


I’m Fr. Charles and I approve this message.




  1. Susan Boecher says

    Charlie, this was great but makes me feel very sad for what you have gone through and what may lie ahead. I’ve always been very sensitive, but this really hit me and brought tears to my eyes. You are such a great writer, and thank goodness you had bridge to give you a respite from what you were going through in Rochester. I’m thankful you and Lynn are back at home and I pray for some kind of normalcy for the two of you. S

  2. Gary Estep says

    Well stated Chas! I played bridge, poorly, 50 years ago. I was ultimately banished and heard the door loudly slam and lock behind me. Something about trumping my partner’s Ace.

  3. Ann Van Ryn says

    Wonderful Charlie-happy you and Lynn have returned home but you will be missed at the bridge table. Your smile and your quips always brought a smile to my face. Many happy days ahead for you and Lynn and maybe when you return I will have the chance to partner with you.

  4. Linda Fess says

    what a great story. But I want to know who went to Maine East….besides me??? I still have the old yearbook with Hillary’s picture…

  5. Alice E. says

    Charlie…………….thanks for sharing. You are delightful and we all enjoyed your smile and bridge abilities as much as you enjoyed sharing them at our tables. Keep up posted and hope all goes well on your end.!!!!
    ***JJ and Alice

  6. Joey Stiver says

    Welcome home!! If you break down and want to play bridge, you should ask Kurt to be your partner. He is very good.

  7. Rhea Dickson says

    You are sorely missed, but am so happy that you,Lynn and Jack are back
    home and once again enjoying some normalcy in life again. I pray for
    Lynn’s continued recovery and wish you all well. We will look forward
    to seeing you at the bridge table on your return visit and know how
    much we all enjoyed your company. By the wy, you are a beautiful
    writer. Rhea

  8. Greg Caucutt says

    Good to hear from you, and your writeup is quite heartwarming. I love bridge and love our club, so it’s great you had such a good experience. I remember escaping stress from my IBM job by playing bridge, it’s like being on a drug trip for 3 hours.

    Hope all is well and we’ll be seeing you soon again,


  9. Joyce L. says

    Enjoyed reading your account of your bridge life in Rochester! I know everyone enjoyed getting to know you and playing with you — hard to believe you are giving up the game.

    I know how much time an 1855 farmhouse can take…..I live in an 1860s farmhouse, in downtown Rochester. Never a dull moment! Too bad we didn’t find this out sooner and exchange stories!

    And, by coincidence, I am headed to southern Indiana for my annual “old car” experience — Indiana Shelby-American Auto Club has a car show every May in Brown County State Park. It’s a weekend event and lots of fun. My friend, who started this event with her husband 35 years ago, owns a 1965 Shelby and a 1965 Cobra. Great cars! Hope you are enjoying yours!

    Joyce Lewis

  10. Pushpa says

    Hi Charlie,
    Hope Lynn is improving,and enjoying her return home. We miss you at the bridge club. Every body kept asking me about you and your whereabouts.Finally Sue made the announcement that you had returned home. Sincerely hope things get better for you both. Regards to you and Lynn.
    Warmly ,

  11. Lenojay says

    Your letter was a kick. But you were 4th string, not 3rd.

    Seeya in Palm Springs, Oct.

    Bud, Jay L

  12. joyce woodworth says

    Thanks for the delightful reminiscing of our Rochester Bridge time. I
    am happy for you and Lynn, back in your home and life as it should
    Anytime you return to Rochester and want to play some bridge,
    please put me at the top of who you’re gonna call… my cell is
    507-458-♦♦♦♦. I hope we can get some games in. I so enjoyed you and, of course, playing bridge with you!.

    We head back to Minnesota tomorrow. My very best to you and Lynn! Joyce Woodowrth

  13. Arne Fockler says

    Thanks for the update Charlie. Say Hi to Lynn.

    I enjoyed playing with you. I particularly like the strategy you employed one day — to double EVERY bid made by the opponents. It failed miserably, but how will we know if we don’t try things like this? Good initiative!

  14. Leslie Wear says

    Hi, Charlie. Checking Phil’s email and found your message, which almost makes me want to play bridge–but not quite! Just wanted to send my best to you and Lynn–and I’m sure Phil, who is in his studio writing the travel book–joins me in that. Hope you’re doing well–
    P.S. My cousin and her husband are now at Mayo for a spell, and I would have put the four of you in touch, but the timing was off.

  15. Jake Allred says


    It was a pleasure to meet you and I enjoyed our game together. Thanks for being so patient with the beginner. Best of luck to you and Lynn.

  16. Jim & Barb Kidder says

    How things with you both? It has to be a relief just to be home. In spite of the grass mowing. It probably feels good to be cutting grass again. Funny how that works.

    It seems the Cubs are no longer the best 2nd division team in baseball.

    Give Lynn our best. What was that you told us about no exposure to root crops?

    Keep it clean.

    Jim & Barb