• Last modified 663 days ago (Sept. 20, 2017)


Another Day in the Country

Playing your cards

© Another Day in the Country

My mother was raised in a card-playing household. Every Sunday after dinner the cards would come out, along with the cigarettes, and the uncles would be shuffling cards as the air turned blue with smoke.

In a family sired by the most opinionated and argumentative of men, there were bound to be disagreements. As the girls cleaned up after the meal, my mother could hear the arguments going on from the kitchen, behind the veil of tobacco smoke, and vowed that this would never happen in her household when she had a family of her own. It didn’t.

Because of this ban on playing cards, my sister and I never learned to play well-known card games like poker or rummy. Mom took our gaming spirit and steered it toward nature games like Goldfinch, where you’d “at least be learning something,” she reasoned.

To this day, I’m grateful for that nudge toward learning the names of birds. I’ve always taken it for granted that everyone knew what a grosbeak was or a flicker, let alone Baltimore orioles and house finches, all because Mom hated arguments over cards and secondhand smoke.

We’ve always considered it a pretty good trade-off, but when we started coming back to Ramona, not knowing a joker from a jack was a social hindrance. My uncles and aunts still played cards Sunday afternoons and almost any evening that they could find another couple of people to join in. Card playing was a major social event.

Ten-point pitch was often the game of choice at Uncle Hank’s and a good place to start our education. Jess and I would drive out to Aunt Anna’s house (who at 90 still lived on the farm) with Uncle Hank and Aunt Gertie for a game of pitch. We’d be rehearsing the names of the suits: hearts (that was easy), diamonds (fairly clear), spades (that was trickier) and…

“Puppy tracks,” my uncle would say from the front seat. “Just call them there clubs puppy tracks — easier to remember.”

It took awhile for us to get proficient enough to be any kind of threat toward actually winning a game, but we got there.

When we learned to play Hand and Foot, that became a passion for our early years in Ramona. We migrated on to a game called 3/13, and then to Jokers and Pegs, a board game that uses cards to dictate moves. We have a long-standing competition going with our cousin’s kids, generating so much team enthusiasm that Jess has been threatening to get matching team shirts. On a Labor Day weekend visit to the cousins in Colorado, we played more than 40 games. Jess and Vicki won two-thirds of those matches.

Keith and I have been trying to figure out why our opponents get more wild cards than we do, no matter how many ways the cards are shuffled. The games are close, often decided by one move and always by some random draw, but the opposition wins twice as much. How can this be? We decided it’s just life.

I believe that living life well is a little like being proficient at cards. In life, you know what kinds of cards you should keep in your hand as long as possible. It’s like holding on to your health and accumulating some savings.

In Jokers and Pegs, you need a face card to get out on the board, an eight or a nine to go backwards towards home instead of taking the long and hazardous journey around the whole board, and hopefully a wild card that is like a miracle when you have been diagnosed with cancer or receive a legacy unexpectedly. These are the cards that make the difference.

But having them in your hand is not enough. You have to know when to play them. This is where wisdom comes into the game, and a good partner helps.

In real life, we never know what cards we’ll be dealt as we play the game, moving around the board.

At the moment, I have some pretty good cards in my hand. I’m grateful for a couple of face cards — health and income. My sister played a wild card last weekend and we went to the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival in Winfield. Then she played an eight, which backed us up to hang out with Rita and Quinn, our “second cousins once removed.” The next morning I played a two, which stands for a lovely two-hour drive through the Flint Hills bringing us safely home again.

It’s another day in the country and win some, lose some, we keep playing the game.

Last modified Sept. 20, 2017