In a quaint, suburban area in the northern part of Dallas, Georgia, a group of ladies gathers together to share stories, foster friendships and play cards.
The self-proclaimed “Canasta Ladies” gather each Thursday afternoon in the Windsong Active Adult Community — a Seven Hills subdivision for adults aged 55 or older — to play four hands of the card game, canasta.
They meet in the community’s clubhouse, a small building with contemporary, suburban architecture. Inside, the ladies gather around pristine, wood tables interspersed between a bloc of couches and a stacked-stone fireplace. An American flag sits silently in the corner by the fireplace, hardly letting its presence be known.
The Canasta Ladies are made up of as many as 14 senior ladies, but a typical Thursday draws about eight or 10 women. It is a ritual of sorts for the women that partake in the weekly gathering to play.
“I look forward to it every week. Even if somebody says, ‘You wanna do something?’ I’m like, ‘Eh, I’m playing canasta,” Barbara Cominos said. “It’s like my responsibility.”
The women are so dedicated to the group that they try their best to not schedule anything on Thursdays from noon to 5 p.m.
“You don’t make any doctor’s appointments or anything if you can help it,” Ermma Fillingim said. “If you miss a day, you miss out on all the stuff that’s going on.”
The reason the ladies look forward to playing canasta on Thursdays lies in their love for one another and the familial bond that exists between them. Diane Kostelnik said the socialization is essential to her own health.
“You get the most health benefit from socialization, [more] than any medication you can take,” Kostelnik said. “Human beings are interactive and play off of one another. A lot of seniors can be isolated.”
The socialization naturally gave way to deep, intimate friendships that enable the women to encourage, listen to and help one another. Fillingim said the group bands together to do things for others when tough times fall upon them.
“I’ve had open heart surgery. I had a bleed out and almost died,” Fillingim said. “All of the ladies, they were support.
One of the ladies, Pat Luewinko, is moving out of the community, and a small celebration was planned to show how much they love her. Food was prepared, the wine was opened and laughter filled the clubhouse. The laughter is Kostelnik’s favorite part.
“I think I laughed about 15 times today!” she said. “You don’t think you have anything more to talk about and then boom, somebody brings up something else and you do.”
The Canasta Ladies don’t view their Thursday get-togethers as a competition. They aren’t too concerned with winning or losing. They truly just enjoy the company and friendships.
“It’s just a game. It’s just the friendship. It’s just the fellowship,” Fillingim said. “That’s what it’s really all about. There are no arguments; it’s not cutthroat.”
However, for Cominos, her husband may actually be more interested in the competitiveness than she is.
“I’ve never kept track, but as soon as Bill comes home he asks, ‘Did you win?’” Cominos said.
The Canasta Ladies are from all different parts of the country with different backgrounds and experiences.
Sharon Barry was a Social Studies teacher for 40 years before retiring. However, she is looking at the possibility of serving as a substitute teacher in the area. Fillingim was a middle school principal during her career.
Kostelnik is originally from California, and she moved to the community from New Jersey with no friends.
“I’m a bit of an outside bird here,” Kostelnik said. “There’s a feeling of [the group having] no judgment.”
Not only does the group play canasta on Thursday afternoons, but they also adventure out to do other things together.
“We have a very active social life,” Cominos said. “We go on day trips. We do house tours. We do a lot.”
The common thread that holds the group together is a love for one another and the special bond each of them shares. The shared sense of camaraderie truly solidifies the Canasta Ladies and has provided a social environment that is rare among those older than 55.
“I had a misconception about 55 and older,” Kostelnik said. “You just don’t expect such vibrant, fun people.
“I don’t know if all 55 and older are like that, but this one sure is!” she added.
As the Thursdays come and go, and the 1950s and 60s music plays softly in the background of the clubhouse, the Canasta Ladies will still chat about their lives and share these moments together. As familiar faces move on and as new faces show up, the ladies will continue to welcome everyone with open arms into the special family they have created together.
“You’re invested in the people here,” Fillingim said. “The bonds that have formed [are] really unique among the ladies.”