On the plane from Jacksonville, Florida to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania my dark, curly-haired seat mate is playing MahJong on her iPad. She is content clicking and dragging tiles with red, green, blue curlicue Chinese letters across the screen, relaxing and whiling away time as the plane glides over the clouds.
My Mom is a Game Girl. She likes both playing card games and TV game shows. Now I’m at my Mom’s house, and I know that every evening she watches Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy back to back. Such shows seem pointless to me, but tonight I decide to watch with her. The audience yells wildly “WHEEEL OF FOR-TUNE” as the host bursts onto the scene, beginning with three mind-boggling categories: Things / Show Biz / Food & Drink. My mom coaches the contestant, “Don’t you know it’s too early in the game to buy a vowel?” A veteran viewer, she knows!
When I ask her why she likes the show, she responds, “I like to see if I can solve the puzzle,” and she often can and does.
Next, Jeopardy comes on. The audience is silent, and a disembodied voice announces a curious set of categories: Big City Suburbs / Body Language / Irish authors. Although Mom has never gone past eighth grade, she answers my Why question with this: “You can learn a lot.”
Mom is happy that I sit through the TV games with her. She really misses her game girls. They have all died now,” she says wistfully. Mary (who always said “Went!” after her turn), Bertha, Helen, Alice, and Elsie would gather at each other’s houses to play Skip-Bo, Hand and Foot, or Uno, a quilting bee of sorts with cards and food. Now she plays Triominos by herself and Uno if she has a partner or two.
When I was a girl, we had board games: Parcheesi, Uncle Wiggly, Checkers and a Carrom board, a strike and pocket game with little red, green, and white pucks flicked with our fingers aiming for the green nets on each corner. One side of he board was painted for backgammon, the other side for checkers.
I don’t think we ever had actual playing cards; that would have been frowned upon by the Lancaster Mennonite Conference with its booklet of Rules and Regulations. But now we are playing Uno with my sister Jean. It’s a mindless game that won’t interfere with our chatting at the same time. My mother’s game girls, not having grown up with real playing cards, used the Mennonite shuffle, so we try that technique to turn the tide on my sister’s three-game winning streak. It doesn’t work, but it’s fun nonetheless.
Shuffling cards the regular way Shuffling cards the Mennonite way
Back in Jacksonville, table game playing is mostly reserved for the younger set. At the Hands-On Children’s Museum, my 6-year-old grandson Curtis tries to initiate me into Chess playing. The Chess pieces are instructive because they are inscribed with names like King-Queen-Bishop-Knight-Pawn and embossed arrows for moves. Curtis is patient with me to a point, but I can tell he is bored because he can simultaneously play a game of Tic-Tac-Toe with a girl on a board at the adjoining table.
Game Girl, I’m not. Given a choice, I’d settle for Scrabble–letters and words make sense to me. Game-wise, it comes closest to reading a book, my recreation of choice. With books or Scrabble, like Mom, I too like to see if I can solve the plot puzzle, and I can be entertained and learn something at the same time.
“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books. . . . ” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Morituri Salutamus
What games do you associate with childhood? Any you enjoy now with family or online? Join in!