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Growing Up With Cards and Games
Summer and games go together for me.
When I was a child, my family had a cottage on a small lake in Northern Minnesota. It lacked electricity and plumbing, which was fine with me; I liked the feeling of camping but still had a comfortable bed to sleep at night. The only downside was an outhouse that was half a block from the cottage and not a fun overnight drive. My mom solved this by creating a “honey pot” that we all used at night and one of us emptied in the morning (although I suspect my mom ended up doing the job more often).
In the evening, our light came from kerosene lamps and a large brick fireplace. After my father, mother, brother and I came home from fishing in the evening (or on a rainy day), we played card games in front of the fireplace; kerosene lamps hanging above to light the small table in the middle. We played gin rum, 500 rum and schmier, a game I remember as a bit like bridge. (If anyone knows how to play smear, please contact me because I need a tutorial!) I especially liked the rum gin and won more than my share of games, but I usually couldn’t beat my dad. Looking back, I’m not sure which was better; card games or quiet evenings with the family. However, I grew to appreciate both.
At some point, we added Monopoly to the list, but I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with that game. If you’re winning, that’s great. Your houses were lined up on the board and the pile of money in front of you got bigger every time someone rolled the dice and landed on your property. But if you’ve missed out on buying the best properties, each roll of the dice puts you further and further into debt – perhaps a bit like real life! I couldn’t bear to slide into poverty and was usually very relieved when I lost all my money and was able to quit the game.
Of course, Scrabble was always a favorite, but, as the youngest, I was a little handicapped by my vocabulary. At that time I didn’t know about short words like Qi. Xu, Qua and Za who fit into small spaces and won a lot of points. Today I play Scrabble daily online with friends and use these words regularly, although I have to admit I still have no idea what they mean.
In college, I met Bridge. I watched my friends play; listening to their offerings and studying their performances. When I met Barry, my future husband, I had only played a few times. After we got engaged, he and I were invited to dinner and a game of bridge at one of his married friend’s houses. I was nervous and felt like a child; these couples were four or five years older than me and actually lived in houses rather than dormitories. By the end of the evening, I was feeling more confident and felt that my bridge game had been very good. Once we were in the car, Barry turned to me and said, “Never, ever bid a three-card suit!” He married me anyway and even taught me how to propose the right way.
For several years we played “party bridge” with twelve friends, most of whom were at the same level as us. Each of us rotated around three different tables and partners. However, there was one man in the group who took the game very seriously. Being his partner meant opening yourself up to four hands of verbal abuse. I didn’t say anything at the time, but this older, wiser version of myself wouldn’t have kept my mouth shut!
Once (and only once) I played duplicate bridge. We were living on a military base in Japan at the time and a friend asked me to substitute for her in a double play once a week while she stopped to have a baby. By this time my bridge game had improved a lot and I immediately said yes. But I soon realized that this game had very little in common with party bridge. The room was deathly quiet, broken only by the sounds of quiet offerings at each table. The emphasis was on each hand and the scorecards were meticulously kept. Also, hands were carefully replaced for the next player.
After we finished playing all the hands, everyone gathered around to see where he or she had landed on the scoreboard. I was second from last, only a few points ahead of a ninety-year-old woman who had dementia. The game only lasted two hours, but it felt like eight. When I got home, I had a terrible headache. When Barry walked in the door, I was lying on the sofa, an ice pack on my head and a glass of wine and a bottle of aspirin on the table next to me.
When our children came, we both spent hours playing children’s games like Candy Land, Old Maid, Go Fish and Chutes and Ladders. Although those games disappeared as our kids got older, our game closet is now full of them all, waiting for our granddaughter’s next visit. This time I find it more fun to play games than when our kids were little. I’m pretty sure the reason for this is because we can enjoy playing with our grandchild without the anxieties that accompanied our own children growing up. Grandchildren are just fun!
With the advent of computers, we can also play many games online. As I mentioned before, I play at least ten games of Scrabble with friends and family, but these are slow moving with only one move from each player per day. In addition, I am addicted to the Microsoft Solitaire Collection which includes a daily challenge in five different diamond games. You collect points which increase each day until you (hopefully) reach the golden bell at the end of the month when the score starts again. If you miss a few days, you will fall behind in your games. Catching up can be fun if you don’t mind a day (or two) of gaming marathons. And this is where the addiction begins!
Since we live in Florida, we have been introduced to two new games that we play with friends. The first is Rummikub, a board game that is a lot like 500 rummy. Barry and I play with three friends every couple of months and we usually lose. A friend has been playing this game for years with a group in her hometown. They play for money, a penny a point and she would like us to do that too. I’d be up for it if Barry or I won every now and then, but at the rate we’re going now, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Another game we play with friends in our neighborhood is Mexican Train, a domino game. The strategy is fun, but the best part of this game is pressing the button in the middle of the plastic train which makes a loud, “Choo cho, choo cho” sound. Of course, to be allowed to press the button, you have to win the game first, and unfortunately, that doesn’t happen very often for me. So every now and then I cheat and push the button for fun.
As you may have guessed by now, I don’t seem to win very often. However, I have decided that for me winning is not the object of the game. Of course I’d rather win than lose, but since that’s not in the “cards”, I focus on other things, like strategy, tricks, matching the correct numbers and collecting all the points I’ve stuck with that someone. another take! I also tell myself that playing games is supposed to be good for your mind. But the best part of playing games is spending time with good friends, eating delicious food and creating beautiful memories at this stage of my life.
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