Of all the ways I like to waste time, playing cards is my favorite. Growing up in a trailer park in California like I did meant there wasn’t much for a kid to do. So in the fourth grade when some army brats moved in on the row behind mine, they invited me over to play some serious cards—War. Then we sat on their front porch for hours while they taught me to shuffle and bridge a deck. Those eight-year-old girls changed my life.
I was already pretty good at Fish and Old Maid. But they taught me to play a mean game of Rummy, as well. For a while, those were the sum total of my gambling vices, except I never bet any money when I played—we were Baptist and didn’t believe in it. I was just betting I could win.
And that’s my favorite part of playing cards—being competitive. It’s the only place you’ll ever see my aggressive side, unless you happen to get in my way on the freeway and then I just want you to know—you had it coming. I’m not a mean card player either. If I’m losing, I might make rude comments and suggest that my opponents have no scruples and no skill, but that doesn’t make me a poor loser. That makes me a big mouth.
Playing cards without money is great therapy, in my opinion. You can get out all your frustrations in one short losing hand and a couple of displays of poor sportsmanship, put all the cards back in the box when the wrong team wins, and laugh over dessert with the same people you wanted to strangle only five minutes earlier. Nobody's broke, no one gets hurt and you all practice tolerance. It’s a politically correct pastime.
Cards level the playing field. Don’t you agree that the best way to get to know people is to play Hearts with them? You might think your husband is easy to read, but just let him run the cards and heartlessly saddle you with twenty-six undeserved points, and suddenly you start to wonder if he ever meant all those things he wrote in your Valentine’s Day cards. Okay, maybe that’s a bad example.
I just think you really get to see people be themselves when you all sit around a table playing Penochle or maybe Hand and Foot. There’s a lot of good natured kidding that goes on and if the other players aren’t too sensitive, everybody knows the insults flying back and forth are just a friendly way of telling people you think they’re fun to hang out with. It can be a real confidence builder when you stop and think about it.
And cards are educational, too. Our kids learned complex math skills during raucous rounds of Cribbage at our house. To this day, when they shop at hardware stores, they sort through screws by counting fifteen two, fifteen four and a pair for six.
When I look back on my extensive life, I think I owe a lot to a deck of cards. Counting cards improved my memory, Euchre taught me to read other people’s minds, and learning how to short suit myself taught me to be logical. And don't forget about the importance of being a team player. It takes two brilliant women to gang up on overconfident husbands and beat them at their own game, you know.
And when the time comes that my children choose the nursing home I’ll wind up living in, I won’t hold a grudge just because they refuse to take me in and store me in their attic. As long as there’s a Euchre table waiting for me in the dining room there, I’ll think I died and went to heaven. All I’ll need is three other geriatric gamers who can hold their own against a gray-haired card shark masquerading as an old lady.
After all, living out your final days in an assisted care home isn’t the worst fate a person could experience. I'll just have to remember what I’ve learned by maintaining my perfect losing streak in Hearts—play the cards you’re dealt.(Photo courtesy of FieZero's photostream)