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Longtime friends start Mah-jongg group

Kathie Grengs (left) and Darlene Charbonneau set up a game of Mah-jongg at the Somerset Public Library Friday, May 14. Grengs and Charbonneau are inviting people to join them for Mah-jong on Fridays at 1 at the Somerset library.1 / 2
Kathie Grengs puts together a winning hand at Mah-jong Friday, June 14, at the Somerset Public Library. Grengs and her longtime friend Darlene Charbonneau (not pcitured) are hoping to find people to play Mah-jongg with them Fridays at the library from 1-4 p.m.2 / 2

Kathie Grengs and Darlene Charbonneau have been friends since the day Grengs walked next door to welcome Charbonneau to the neighborhood, more than 40 years ago.

They have spent a lot of time together over the years and still take walks together almost daily. They also share a mutual enjoyment of the game Mah-jongg.

Grengs learned to play Mah-jongg in the Florida retirement community where she spends her winters. When she returned to Somerset, she taught Charbonneau to play as well.

"It's an interesting game," Grengs said. "It's challenging and it's good for your brain. Us seniors need that."

Now, Grengs and Charbonneau both play in their respective retirement communities over the winter (Charbonneau winters in Arizona) and they play together when they are in Somerset for the warmer months. However, Mah-jongg is a game best played with three or four people. So Grengs and Charbonneau are looking for more people to join them in playing on Fridays at 1 p.m. at the Somerset library.

"We're hoping that there's some other retiree that plays out there," Grengs said. Although she and Charbonneau also said they would welcome any adult who wanted to play with them, they also said they could teach the game to someone who wanted to play, but did not know how.

While many people are familiar with the computer version of Mah-jongg, which is a matching game. Grengs said the non-virtual version of the game is more complicated.

"It's not that hard, it really isn't," Grengs said.

Mah-jongg originated in China. In modern, American Mah-jongg, players are dealt 13 tiles, which they try to arrange to form a "hand," much like a typical card game. There are many sets of hands, all of them subject to change on a yearly basis. Mah-jongg players can keep track of the hands with a Mah-jongg card, created by the National Mah-jongg league.

Mah-jongg tiles, like cards, come in categories, like suits. But instead of clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades, Mah-jongg has craks, bams (short for bamboo), dragons, winds (north, south, east and west), flowers and, like cards, jokers.

Once the players line their tiles up in a hand, they can declare "Mah-jongg." The first person to attain "Mah-jongg" wins the hand.

Grengs said the game seemed a little intimidating when she first learned to play, but once she tried it, she found herself addicted.

"Patience is key," Grengs said. "It's easy to learn. You just have to have a little patience."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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