“A wise gamester ought to take the dice even as they fall and pay down quietly, rather than grumble at his luck.”
— Sophocles, 403 B.C.
Just recently, a memory came to me of my maternal grandparents sitting at their kitchen table, drinking their Sanka and playing dominoes, while I played with toys at their feet. Those little black tiles with various dots fascinated me, but I couldn’t figure out how anyone could make a game of such a thing. Always curious, I wanted to know if I could learn to play the next game.
“Do you want to play the winner? I’m going to be the winner of this one,” my soft-spoken grandfather said with a wink.
The legend of the game over their lifetime of marriage tells that they bet one nickel on each domino match. They passed the same nickel back and forth as the years rolled on.
Anyone who lived in the quiet country learned that playing games was, in some ways, the entire entertainment package, in the days before television, or even in the early days of its arrival.
My sisters taught me how to play Go Fish and Old Maid, and I vaguely recall another called Uncle Wiggly. My Aunt Marilyn taught me Parcheesi, the worn-out board showing generations of play. I learned to make matches of three, then later to count by fives by playing gin rummy with my mother while my big sisters were in school.
It was always such a thrill when she finished the seemingly endless tubs of ironing and said, “If you get the cards, I have time to play gin rummy!”
Nearly every weekend, it seemed, my parents invited friends to play cards, or we were welcomed into the home of one of their friends. Everyone in those days, it seems, owned a card table and chairs and packs of well-worn cards. The game of choice tended to be euchre.
Children had the bonus of free time with other kids, playing outside if the weather cooperated. The big kids were in charge, and we knew to listen. We were called inside when darkness fell, treated to Kool-Aid and popcorn.
All of her adult life, my mom belonged to a Canasta club. When it was her turn to host, we helped clean as if the queen was coming to call, and drooled over the rare treats Mom prepared. If we were lucky, there would be leftovers to share.
My memories include board games of Clue, Sorry, Aggravation and lots of checkers. Chinese checkers was a big favorite. The television was rarely on, though there was often music playing softly from the radio.
I learned to grow my vocabulary with Scrabble, not even realizing this was my mother’s intent. When the game of Yahtzee showed up, the novelty of rolling and counting dice was exciting and new. We would put the dice in the little cup and shake them all up.
“That sure is wrecking the peace and quiet,” Dad observed with a grin. “They should have named it Noisy Racket!”
From then on, that’s what we called it.
No matter what we played, there were few distractions. We concentrated on the game, and one of the biggest lessons was taught every single time we played: we learned how to be diplomatic winners and good losers.
There was to be no grumbling, just the realization that someone wins and someone loses. That’s life. It was a great life lesson. Maybe one of the very best.
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