When I was a child, my family had a cottage on a small lake in Northern Minnesota. It lacked both electricity and plumbing which was fine with me; I liked the feeling of camping but still having a comfortable bed to sleep in at night. The only drawback was an outhouse that was half a block from the cottage and not a fun trip at night. My mother 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 mother ended up with the job most often).
In the evening, our light came from kerosene lamps and a large brick fireplace. After my father, mother, brother and I came in from evening fishing (or on a rainy day), we played card games in front of the fireplace; kerosene lamps hanging overhead to light the small table in the middle. We played gin rummy, 500 rummy and schmier, a game that I remember as being a little like bridge. (If anyone knows how to play smear, please contact me because I need a tutorial!) I especially loved gin rummy and won more than my share of games but I usually couldn’t beat my father. Looking back, I’m not certain which was better; the card games or the quiet evenings with family. However, I grew up treasuring both.
At some point, we added Monopoly to the list but I always had a love/hate relationship with that game. If you’re winning, it’s great. Your houses lined the board and the stack of money in front of you grew larger every time someone shook the dice and landed on your property. But if you missed purchasing the best properties, every shake of the dice put you further and further in debt – perhaps a little bit like real life! I couldn’t handle the slide into poverty and was usually very relieved when I lost all my money and was able to quit the game SA Gaming.
Of course, Scrabble was always a favorite but, as the youngest, I was a little handicapped by my vocabulary. At the time, I didn’t know about short words like Qi. Xu, Qua and Za that fit into small spaces and earned a lot of points. Today I play Scrabble every day online with friends and use these words regularly although I have to admit that I still have no idea what they mean.
In college, I was introduced to Bridge. I watched friends playing; listening to their bids and studying their plays. When I met Barry, my husband-to-be, I had only played a few times. After we were engaged, he and I were invited to dinner and a bridge game at one of his married friend’s houses. I was nervous and felt like a kid; 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 my bridge playing had been pretty good. As soon as we were in the car, Barry turned to me and said, “Never, never bid a three card suit!” He married me anyway and even taught me how to bid the right way.
For several years, we played party bridge with twelve friends who were, for the most part, at the same level as us. Each one of us rotated around three tables and different partners. However, there was one man in the group who took the game very seriously. Being his partner meant opening yourself to four hands of verbal abuse. I didn’t say anything at the time but this older and wiser version of myself would not have kept her mouth shut!
Once (and only once) I played duplicate bridge. We were living on an army base in Japan at the time and a friend asked me to substitute for her in a once-a-week duplicate bridge game while she stopped to have a baby. By this time, my bridge game had vastly improved and I immediately said yes. But I soon found out that this game had very little in common with party bridge. The room was deadly quiet, interrupted only with the sounds of quiet bidding at each table. The emphasis was on each hand and the score cards were kept meticulously. Also, the hands were carefully replaced for the next player.
After we had finished playing all the hands, everyone gathered to see where he or she had landed on the points list. I was second from last, with only a few more points than a ninety-year old woman who had dementia. The game was only two hours but it felt like eight. By the time I got home, I had a terrible headache. When Barry walked in the door, I was lying on the couch, an ice pack on my head and a glass of wine and bottle of aspirin on the table beside me.
When our children came along, we both spent hours playing children’s games such as Candy Land, Old Maid, Go Fish and Chutes and Ladders. Although those games disappeared as our children grew up, our game closet is now restocked with all of them, waiting for our granddaughter’s next visit. I’m finding it more fun playing the games this time around than I did when our children were young. I’m quite sure the reason for this is because we can enjoy playing with our grandchild without the anxieties that accompanied raising our own children. Grandchildren are simply fun!
With the advent of computers, we can also play a lot of games online. As I mentioned before, I play at least ten games of Scrabble with friends and family but these move slowly with only one move by each player in a day. In addition, I am addicted to the Microsoft Solitaire Collection which includes a daily challenge in five different solitaire games. You collect points which grow daily until (hopefully) you reach the gold bell by the end of the month when the scoring starts over. If you miss a few days, you get behind on your games. Catching up can be fun if you don’t mind a marathon day (or two) of computer games. And this is where the addiction starts!
Since we have lived 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. One friend has been playing this game for years with a group in her home town. They play for money, a penny a point and she would like us to do this also. I’d be willing if either Barry or I won once in a while but at the rate we’re going now, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
The other game we play with friends in our neighborhood is Mexican Train, a dominoes game. The strategy is fun but the best part of this game is pushing the button in the middle of the plastic train which emits a loud, “Choo cho, choo cho.” Of course, to be allowed to push the button you have to first win the game and, unfortunately that doesn’t happen to me very often. So occasionally I cheat and push the button for fun.
As you might have guessed by now, I don’t seem to win very often. However, I’ve decided that, for me, winning is not the object of the game. Of course I do prefer winning to losing but since that isn’t in “the cards”, I focus on other things, such as strategy, taking tricks, combining the correct numbers and adding up all the points I’m stuck with that someone else gets! 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 building lovely memories in this phase of my life.