The thing they never tell you about getting old is how much of your golden years is spent attending funerals and feeling the sudden eternal absence of people who once seemed like a constant part of your life. This year has already seen the deaths of at least three people with whom I played bridge, two with whom I was relatively cordial.
There was Bruce Bronstein, the jovial retired podiatrist and former volleyball player who died from chronic heart problems on Jan. 28. A large man who tried to fight his weight by having his stomach stapled (but like many who have the procedure, he found new ways of eating, as attested to by the giant cup of frappucino he always sipped from), he was an easygoing partner and our games were relatively similar, so I always looked forward to playing with him. In fact, I was hoping to have him as a partner in Swiss teams at last year’s Buffalo Spring Sectional until I heard that he’d become a long-term patient at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
A couple days ago, I spotted a death notice for Cliff Vogelsang, with whom I’d been paired a few times in 2006 and 2007 in games at the former B&P Duplicate. Cliff was a retired businessman – I think he owned a factory – and was well into his 80s, to the point where his mental faculties were slipping. The last time I played with him, he slipped a lot and we had the first sub-30% game I’d ever registered. After that, I didn’t see him again.
And then there was Chester Fell, a modest and mostly private guy who walked with a pronounced limp (reminiscent of Chester from the “Gunsmoke” TV series) and always arrived at the games a couple minutes late. What attracted him the most notice was his car – a rusting gray 1951 Buick Special sedan. It proved noteworthy once again on Palm Sunday, this time in a report from the Amherst police. He was driving the Buick when he apparently ran a red light on Sheridan Drive at Frankhauser Road, struck a woman turning left in front of him and hit a house. It didn’t seem like something that would turn out to be life-threatening, but Chester died the next day, age 85. I suspect a medical problem may have been involved.
The late Peg Rieker (whose obituary I wrote last August) first paired me with Chester at one of the B&P Duplicate games (I think it was one where they had to play in the Sunday school classrooms across from Kuck Social Hall, where they usually set up). Chester’s game was as old-fashioned as his ride. He played virtually none of the current conventions. He didn’t do Jacoby transfers over 1 No Trump opening bids. He’d open bidding with a four-card major suit. He also played as slowly as he drove. Nevertheless, he played well and I often earned points with him.
We’d just seen Chester two days before the crash, when he came in late to the Airport Bridge Club – as usual – without a partner, also as usual. He hadn’t played much recently and he was showing what I thought were hints of decline. His limp seemed more severe and his hair, usually flattened down, was tousled. His game, however, was sharp. He had a 55.36% with Marilyn Sultz and finished first in the B strat.