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Game memories all in the cards

While cleaning out some bookshelves recently, I unearthed a dog-eared small volume. In 1986, Robert Fulghum wrote a concise little book about life called, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Robert and I don’t agree on everything.

He was right on target about a lot of things – about sharing and kindness; about personal responsibility like cleaning up after yourself.

When I first read it, I thought this guy was really on to something. He was teaching us how to pass on the basics of a good and fruitful life to our children. And then, he made a mistake.

He cautioned the reader not to waste time playing cards. Seriously? This poor man has missed an enormous opportunity to just have fun. And he’s telling the world to skip it?

I was wondering why Fulghum would be so against card playing, and decided to dig into his biography. He’s an inordinately talented man – an oft-published author, musician, sculptor, painter. He also spent 22 years as a Unitarian minister. Last I checked, Unitarians are not against card playing. I once lost a small chunk of money to a Unitarian at gin rummy. My fault, not the Unitarian’s.

Fulghum has sold over 18 million copies of this life primer, advising all those readers to skip one of the life’s most entertaining family pursuits. And card playing is also cheap.

Now, I agree that if you play high-stakes poker – especially if you don’t play well – yes, you could lose a lot of money. And if Vegas Blackjack is your game, that’s an expensive little hobby.

But there’s no better bang for the entertainment buck than the price of a deck of playing cards. They don’t get sticky, bent, or grubby unless they are extremely well used, and then they are easily replaced. Cheaply.

Playing cards with friends and family can be more than just fun, Depending on your game of choice, you must exercise some of your gray stuff to calculate a winning strategy. And you might just have to chat, kid, and laugh while you’re at it.

I didn’t grow up playing cards, but I learned whist and hearts in college. Some fraternity boys down the street taught me the basics of poker, and let me play for nickels. Cowardice was the best strategy given my poker ability. Besides, in those years, any extra money went for basics – like deodorant and Milky Ways.

My late in-laws played cards all through the Depression, and for decades after, teaching their children and grandchildren how to play, Along with many of their friends, they belonged to pinochle and euchre clubs. They visited each other’s houses to compete, make small side bets, and laugh while devouring each other’s Jell-O salads and brownies. My late husband, Tom, remembered looking forward to mornings after his mother’s Card Club, scoffing tea sandwiches, chocolate cake and cookies for breakfast.

Tom’s parents taught me to play pinochle and euchre, but they only taught one way – to win. Both his parents won many local tournaments, instilling that competitiveness in their children and grandchildren.

It was a big deal to be invited to Grandpa’s card table – to sit at his right while he coached you through a hand, and occasionally throwing you points to make sure you won. I was the newcomer to the family game and he mentored me, making sure I learned the subtleties of pinochle and the killer tactics of euchre.

Large family pinochle games often numbered six, seven or eight players with some jockeying for position next to Grandpa. (By the way this was also a good kid’s tactic at the dinner table – he ate their detested broccoli for them.)

Within 15 minutes at the card table, the games were loud, and quickly proceeded to booming. The family was together, making outrageous bids, and hooting at each other’s bravado or wimpiness. No one’s ego survived the running commentary, which prompted even more laughter. Everyone knew it was all in fun. Many happy hours slid by, while the little people were thrilled to have snuck past normal bedtime for a seat at the big peoples’ game.

My daughter has, of course, taught my grandchildren euchre. Grandma and Grandpa’s legacy is in good hands because those kids have become competitive – very quickly. I coached them early on but had trouble holding my own during this last Christmas vacation. I was delighted we weren’t playing for money.

Sorry, Mr. Fulghum, but you missed the boat on this kindergarten lesson. Our clan will have our kitchen table fun and togetherness – our multi-generation memories – for a lifetime. You lost this hand.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren, Pa. She can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.

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