Playing cards

I asked my daughter one day what was the one thing in this world she loved to do more than anything else. She immediately replied, “Playing cards.” I get it. I came from a card playing family. Not just cards. We played games. Every time we were together we played something. Children were taught at a young age to play crib. As I sit writing my mind is whirling with all of the most memorable game playing moments I have had in my life.

When I was six my Dad would lay on the floor with me and have a rousing game of “Old Maid” in the evenings before bed. When my sister was nearing her due date with her first child she used to rest her hand on top of her belly while she played cards. She was huge. I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I was only seven. In our house Crib was one of the first adult games we learned to play. Most people didn’t like to play with little kids. It requires a ton of time and patience. When I was 10 my brother was dating a gal he would eventually marry. Her Dad gave me a dollar whenever I saw them but it was her mother that spent hours playing crib with me. It was pure joy. It was a gift that lasted a lifetime. Longer than the dollar.

We were a ruthless group. When someone looked like they were going to win, the rest of us would gang up on them. Sometimes sacrificing our own game to screw with the leader. That was of course the card game “Screw Your Neighbour.” That’s what Dad called it. The rest of us called it “Oh Hell.” My oldest brother married a girl from Montreal. Her parents were card fiends. I still have the rules for a game they introduced into our family. Madame Du Pique. They fit in well. And yet another brother married into a family that was always playing something new. Every family get together had his wife teaching us some new fun card game.

The summer my Dad turned eighty the entire Pedersen clan came to my cabin. Most of my siblings were grandparents by that time so there was quite a crowd. One comment stands out to this day. The siblings and spouses were chatting and visiting while the grandkids played cards in the kitchen. My niece said “I remember camping out on Grandpa and Gramma’s living room floor listening to the adults play cards. Now we are the adults and our parents are putting our kids to bed.” Time moves on and we move with it.

My twin brothers are intense and like to argue. I think for them it is just another game. One day many years ago I walked away from a game of Risk that the three of us were playing. It was my turn and I have made my move. What came next was a 20 minute argument about whether or not I was allowed to make that move. I told them to call me when they were done their discussion. We didn’t finish. Needless to say I never played Risk with those two again.

The backgammon phase hit big in the 1970’s and I was bit by that bug big time. As mentioned, my teen years were a little trying for my parents so Grade 12 saw me attending Camrose Lutheran College. They offered Matric classes for grade 12 only as well as first and second year university transfer programs. As I needed 5 classes to graduate I was able to start university in grade 12. Seems like a good idea. They get rid of me to a good wholesome background and I accelerate my education. Well let me tell you what I aced. Backgammon! Oh there was a lot of partying. I barely graduated. Thank goodness I buckled down the second semester or I ever would have been accepted into University. But weekday evenings found me in the lounge of the girls floor of the coed dorm playing backgammon with any and all comers. My roommate had different priorities. Study and Party. She didn’t get the backgammon craze. Some nights it took her hours to get the rest of us out to a party or Bar. Many of us in grade 12 were underaged so we had to go to tiny little country bars where no one asked for I.D. I brought a backgammon board to Europe after graduation where I lost approximately $100 over a month. Excellent value for my money. There was always someone willing to play. I bought a board for my son last Christmas. He isn’t as keen as I am. I may have fallen a bit in my parenting. I admit I shed a little tear.

We have a beautiful hand carved chess set from Mexico that my granddaughter Missy insisted on playing with at age three. When we tried to use a wooden, less expensice set to teach her she made a fuss. It was the fancy set or nothing. To her it will always be called Papa’s game. Not chess. We sent the wooden set home with her to practice. I think it is still in the box. The joy is knowing Papa trusts you with his special things.

These days that is what we do at the cabin. There are cupboards full of games, cards with lots of paper for score keeping and even games for the TV. There are games I have had to buy many times. Mancala is one of these. You teach a child and they take it home with them. You buy another. And so on and so on. Not long ago I was with two grandchildren at the cabin. Six year old Missy was teaching three year old Louie how to play Mancala. It was a very touching scene in my special little alcove. The rite of passage that is Pedersen. Through the years I have had to buy that game five times. When a friends young son was in the hospital we of course brought him games. Naturally, I had to buy Mancala. Again.

And me? I did not marry into a card playing family. Rene’ isn’t as enamoured as our kids but we do sit and play crib now and again. In the winter we play pool every Wednesday. Pool halls are not the dens of sin we were once led to believe. Nowadays people bring their kids there and have a beer. Good wholesome family fun. I’m getting better but so is he. Alas, the gap in our skill level hasn’t narrowed over time. Lucky for me it hasn’t widened either. I do win my share of games. Is it my fault when he scratches on the eight ball? A win is a win. I’ll take it.

My Dads birthday was during the August long weekend so every year we had some sort of family gathering. The year he turned 55 was a huge party with friends and family coming from miles around. There was a big horse shoe tournament set up and of course there were trophies for the winners. The weekend coincided with our local rodeo. I was sixteen that year and there was other fun to be had that weekend. A few friends were over helping to celebrate with the family and naturally, were entered in the big tournament. Most of the guys lost out early on. Again my family were fierce competitors. Well, one friend kept winning. He couldn’t leave. So the rest of us ditched him and he stayed with the family. He caught up to us a few hours later proudly holding his trophy. A few years back Wally mentioned he still has his trophy.

I am grateful for my game playing family. When we play now I feel my parents presence. We joke about Ditte. My Momma. Her sweet nature a cover for her cheating ways. Oh she knew what she was doing! Her unique shuffling method reminiscent of a Vegas dealer. Dad slamming a card down hard and fast when he won a trick. The gloating smile when he messed up another player. Calling the scorekeeper a cheater. No matter who it was. Trash talking at its finest. Perhaps a little startling for newcomers who saw us as a kind and loving family. You need thick skin to play with us. Naturally the game wasn’t complete without Dads stories of years gone by. Of people long gone. And then the end of a game. Dad wants to know if we are playing another one. Mom jumps up to make sandwiches. A baby cries. Little kids need their mom. A few people give up their spot at the table while a few eager onlookers snag the empty chair. Their turn finally arriving to get in on the game. The arguments. 8 is too many for “Oh Hell”. No Dad says. Everyone gets to play. Well then what else can we play. The discussions take forever but no one minds. Well lets play Hearts. Its decided. Drinks are refreshed. Someone gets a snack. Mom plops a bowl of chips into the middle of the table and we dive for the bowl. Dad complains the cards are going to be greasy. Ok. Everyone off to wash their hands. And then the game begins. A sister in law comes out of a bedroom. One more child off to sleep. Players switch out as children need comforting. Usually one or more wee ones is rocked as their parent juggles a handful of cards. Eventually Dad is off to the living room to put his feet up. Mom putters. All too soon it is 3 a.m. It is decided to pick up the game in the morning but it never happens. Te next evening it starts again.

My Parents are no longer with us but their memory lingers on. I learned something very important from my daughter. All of my beautiful memories were about inclusion with the family Sometimes the youngest gets left out. I usually wasn’t. Including kids in “adult” time isn’t a chore, it is love. It is what we call memory building. One of my parents best childrearing techniques was including us in the fun. Thank God I taught my kids games. It left a mark on them. As for Missy, I think she will one day remember playing chess on the “nice” board. Papa’s game. She is special. The board can be replaced!

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