Playing the Hand One’s Dealt

(“You play the hand you’re dealt.  I think the game’s worthwhile.”  ~ C.S. Lewis) 

Admittedly, personal discussions which focus upon politics, religion, finances, in-laws, the questionable necessity for either camouflaged Rambo-type hunting or Betty Crocker-ish canning and preserving, “Which arrived first, the chicken or the egg?” or “Is it acceptable to wear white after labor day?” all qualify as verboten.  Where does that leave us, then, in the time-honored pursuit of short and snappy fun and merriment among casual acquaintances?

Why, the “devil’s in–the details” of… 52 (or more) plasti-coated BICYCLE CARDS!  “Luck, be a lady!”  A return to the gaming tables. Warning: “Ya gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em!”

My parents, hailing from Southern Baptist heaven deep within the heart of Dixie-land, pulled their blinds when newly married!  In order to play pinochle, gin rummy, or euchre (for which the “joker” got himself invented), they became surreptitious, deceitful seekers of…FUN.  Who knew when my devout schoolmarm grandma might have dropped by, reminding the couple to attend church services, only to discover their deviant behavior?  The newly-weds became foxy, recognizing the familiar sound of her orthopedic shoes ascending their tiny front steps. Edna and Roy made me who I am today.

Once my mother became a…”mother”, her own roguish wickedness continued. During the fabulous post-war late ’40s and Eisenhower-led early ’50s, my sister Sarah attended West Ward grammar school at a time encompassing that era in which CANASTA became roaringly popular within the United States. Melding, wild cards–deuces and jokers, magical sought-after RED threes (“treys”), “freezing” the stack or gleefully grabbing it up, “going out” on an opponent sitting across the kitchen table and caught holding “close to the vest” a fistful of cards suddenly representing negative points–A KALEIDOSCOPE OF A GAME!  The Spanish word “Canasta” appropriately translates into “basket”!   Well, my mama would meet little “Sass” at the front door–after school–hang up her child’s tiny coat and then…challenge her to a 90 minute round of the enticing new game. Sarah grew up to become the family mathematician!

Our family, never wealthy yet always frugal, creatively sought out fun and relished being at home more than anywhere else in the world. Seldom vacationed…in fact, never. Frequented “dollar days” downtown. Drove old cars. We sisters wore hand-me-downs or dresses/sweaters courtesy of our seamstress/knitter mom–almost exclusively. If we bought material possessions, they stayed in the family for generations. My clothes and toys enjoyed second lives with my darling nieces.  Hmmmm. Particularly, the toys I still wish I had!  ARGHHHHH!   

However, well-worn decks of kings, queens, jacks, aces–those “ratty-packs”–never left the premises. Spread across table-tops!  Scattered over tiled/hard-wood/carpeted floors!  Stashed in bureau drawers!  Four suits of spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs always at the ready.  Their configurations into various games held such promise.

Fond memories of Blue Bell foremen conducting their Christmas celebrations (a.k.a. “office parties”) in our dining room, counting their poker chips and pocketing winnings of small change (while Mrs. D. served fancy ham salad sandwiches as well as that other kind of “chips” and a few cocktails) are interrupted for a second as I recollect that disapproving protesters occasionally dropped by and exited prior to the decadence that would follow. (Always gotta be a party pooper or two.) Poker boasts “zero-sum-game” status which factors in Keynesian Laws of Economics, after all. Looking on the bright, wholesome side, those guys enjoyed a “busman’s holiday” maybe?  Time and a half?  Ah, well, more frolicking punctuated my “coming of age” years when visiting engineers from Greensboro, Chicago, or Waterbury spent evenings with us playing “Thirty-One”, betting pennies and following the rules by “knocking” on the kitchen table, warning of “one more round–then game’s over–highest score wins the pot”!  A rather frenetic cut-throat contest where we kids were included!  Those days of “Mad Men”–wonderful!

Thoughts turn to the pursuit of Bridge–in all of its forms whether duplicate or contract or rubber–where folks are forced to “connect” albeit competitively yet with fellowship intact. Many “dummies” (authentic Bridge term) and much “trumping” and “finessing” puckishly continue to haunt this house.  VIsitors included Dr. Minear and Helen Markley, Dr. John, Kleespies, Smiths, McNagnys, and sundry progressive Tri-Kappa-Luncheon/Bridge-Combo Fund-Raiser participants (but NEVER Lowell and D’maris Grant who qualified to compete in California-Style TOURNAMENT BRIDGE matches with the likes of Omar Sharif, the Egyptian movie star/gambler/card-playing genius).  When a partner was “in absentia”, I got to play cuz the adults “needed a fourth”!  Mrs. Langohr and I both possessed the same edgy, risky bidding habits a bit beyond the reality of the situation.  Remembrance of a famous quote from my Dad,  “Margo, you’re NUTS!”, never failed to send her into gales of good-natured laughter.

My parents, the Bonnie and Clyde of the “According to Hoyle” set, did not cease their insidious influence with their children. Oh no!  All grandchildren were ritualistically brought into the “family” as well. My son Roy, now a seasoned card shark, survived (and thrived upon) initiation at an early age via the now-forgotten classic “Kings on the Corner.” Following clearance from the breakfast table of left-over corn-bread, eggs, and grits–also cutlery, plates, water glasses, and cloth napkins–the decks were “cut” and hands were dealt!  Vigorous card wars ensued. What happens at grandma’s kitchen table stays at grandma’s kitchen table…another helping of Southern-fried “omerta” please!  Incidentally, Roy now owns a Phi Beta Kappa key and considers himself “home-schooled” for all intents and purposes?

Professor “Music Man” Harold Hill, sang, “We’ve got trouble, my friends…trouble right here in River City.”  Show me, though, where it is written:  “Thou shalt not partaketh of good clean fun.”  No, please don’t!  Some of us never are too pre-occupied or busy to stop to promote and enjoy an impromptu window of opportunity for gamesmanship.  My current “shuffle up and deal” family–in my dreams–consists of Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Al Pacino, and Javier Bardem. Hey, kids, we’ve got a foursome!  I’ll set up the Bridge table, provide the score pads and tallies, prepare refreshments and happily kibitz! 

Happy Holidays to Y’all!  “May your days be merry and bright!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: