Bridge nights and beehives in a baby boomer’s early life

Remember beehive hairdos? Remember bridge mix? We love it here at BoomerCafé when baby boomers write about their childhood memories, and Erin O’Brien remembers a lot. She lives these days in Redondo Beach, California, but grew up in another Los Angeles suburb — in the home town of the Beach Boys, Butch Patrick (who became better known as Eddie Munster), and Norma Jean Baker, the child who turned into Marilyn Monroe. But Erin’s world back then was smaller than that, small enough that a big memory even today is Bridge Night.

The carpet was vacuumed, the furniture polished, the coffee pot was “percolating,” and my mom’s hair was in a beehive.

Erin O'Brien

Erin O’Brien

It was my mom’s turn to host the ladies from the YWCA for a night of bridge. The front room resembled a little classroom with our dining room chairs behind the card table and TV trays, each topped with tally sheets and tiny pencils. New decks of cards, still in their boxes, were set out next. A “company’s coming” glass dish placed on the coffee table, each end table, and the color TV contained a chocolate and nut confection called “bridge mix,” or tiny pastel mint pillows that melted on your tongue.

Now Bridge Night was good, and also, Bridge Night was bad. Dinner was early, which was good, but we three — my sister, brother, and me — were banished to our bedrooms for the duration. This was bad. However, our parting gift was a special delivery from my mom, our own samples of the bridge mix and pastel mints on special paper plates just for the occasion. This was good.

Erin (left) with her mother, on the right.

Erin (left). Her aunt with the “big hair” in the center. Erin’s mother, on the right, holding Erin’s brother

The rules were simple: stay in your room and play quietly. How I longed to see what was beyond the hallway door in the land of grown-ups, who played cards and drank coffee and ate their fill of bridge mix and mints.

My brother’s bedroom was on the opposite end of the house, but my sister’s and mine was at the front of the house, with one of the windows at a right angle to the front door. At seven o’clock the doorbell began to ring regularly, and I curiously and gently pulled up the shade, ever so slightly, so my sister and I could get a glimpse of my mother’s guests. The porch light was on, and I could see my mother with her red lipstick as she opened the front door to greet each arrival.

Erin with her grandmother and family in front of the family house.

Erin and little sister Joanie on the front porch with visiting relatives.

Our paper plates were empty and the night was young, so I decided to be proactive. I raised the window shade completely, and began to greet the guests myself, with my sister beside me. “Hi. Would you ask my mom if we could have some more bridge mix?” I even held a paper sign to that effect. The women in their beehives and red lipstick looked a bit surprised to find two little faces in the window. So did my mother when she opened the front door and our eyes met.

A few minutes later my mom opened the door of our prison cell, bringing more rations, with the explicit warning to pull down the window shade and not to interrupt Bridge Night again.

We colored in our coloring books and ate our bridge mix and mints, but pretty soon my sister was asleep. I could hear Bridge Night beyond my bedroom, and while I knew I was not allowed to open the hallway door, I had to tell my mom something. I tiptoed down the dark hallway in my nightgown and slowly unscrewed the doorknob, as light poured in, along with grown-up conversation and laughter. I continued on tiptoe until I was beside my mother at the card table, with her hand of cards.

“Mommy,” I whispered, “I don’t feel good,” as a torrent of my stomach contents — bridge mix and pastel mints — showered the freshly vacuumed carpet in front of the ladies in their beehives and red lipstick. My mom quickly ushered me out of the room. I was too miserable to be embarrassed. But I took comfort in knowing I’d be excused for interrupting Bridge Night.

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  1. ha! Great story! My MOM did the SAME thing! Her card group was full of women with BIG hair, including the beehive! Some wore white gloves! My Mom also served Bridge Mix! Must have been theee thing to serve at a card nite. My brother and I were forced to be ‘nice’ to each other for a couple hours while banished to our shared bedroom here in the then tiny Iowa town.. We only wanted the left over Bride Mix!!

  2. What a wonderful story! It brought back many memories of childhood and growing up on the east coast – beehives and all!

  3. I’ve just read your essay 3 times, and it gets funnier, and brings back more memories, each time. In my house it was Bunco, and my dad would take us kids to the local drive-in movie to get us completely out of the house! Love it, Erin!

  4. Oh, I remember those tiny pastel mint pillows. They were nearly as good as the sugary mints that were white with a green center … what were they called? No doubt that is why I’ve done my bit to support dentistry.

  5. How this brings back the great memories! It was a good time in our lives, shared with wonderful women, diverse in our backgrounds, but enjoying each others company! Thanks Erin, for the reminder of old friends, and lovely evenings! Aunt Carol

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