Grandma was always packin,’ and rarin’ to go. She carried her own dice, and could, on occasion, shoot them straight and true. But usually they took an odd bounce. ‘Bama couldn’t help it. It was her ‘Yahtzee elbow.’
“No, hon, they just up and jumped on my arm,” Grandma smiled.
“But you bumped them after they’d stopped.”
“Did I? Well hush my mouth.” Her eyes opened wide. “If you like, I could roll again.”
So she did. A couple tumbled off the table. She grabbed both in mid-air, and held them up for us to see.
Mom cocked her head. “Really?”
“They were gonna be sixes.”
Mom rolled her eyes. “Well you should work for the FBI.”
“Maybe I do,”
“Then arrest yourself, scofflaw.”
Grandma winked, and penciled in a zero. “Ah… Just funnin’ ya,”
And fun she was. ‘Bama had more trick shots than Minnesota Fats.
Yahtzee wasn’t our family’s only passion. We also were Monopolists, members of a cult that deprives you of sleep, strips your wealth, and lands you in jail. Once hooked, you’re forced to find fresh recruits. It’s not easy. I lost a few friends by confining them in a small room, spending hours on end passing ‘Go,’ until we fell into a stupor.
So usually it was just me and my brother, JD. Since I was older, and more “responsible,” I got to be the banker. Having your hands on other people’s money is the best part of the game. Once, I wanted to buy hotels but was short on cash. I hit upon a creative financing scheme that would impress Goldman-Sacs.
“Why?” JD frowned.
“Hotels on Boardwalk? Right?’
“Could be.” I said.
JD scowled. “And I’ll land on them.”
“But you’ll have $5,000.”
“Until I lose it.”
“Yeah. Then I can pay the bank back, and you’ll go bankrupt.”
“That stinks.” JD said.
“It’s business, little brother, and I’m gonna take the cash, even if you don’t.”
“Show me where it says I can’t!” I waved the rule book in his face.
Mom was summoned. She scanned the instructions.
“Nope. Not allowed.”
“Ah, Mom. You can divvy stuff up for a shorter game.”
“At the start,” Mom sighed. “You don’t change rules halfway through.”
“But they’re nice hotels,” I said. “It’s progress.”
Mom shook her head. “Playing by the rules builds character. Try it, you’ll see.” She left, and my brother flashed a grin.
“Told ya’….” JD said.
“OK.” I put the rule book at my side. “She said I had to play by them, not with them. Now, how about some cash?”
Yet Mom did have a point. Playing by the rules does offer many valuable lessons. Life, for example, lets you taste the sweetness of ‘revenge’ and sample the sin of gambling. It’s all there in the rule book. Sure, Life touts college and a career, but you can place side-bets and spin the wheel. It’s a great way to end up in the poor house.
Games teach us about emotions, too. Take Sorry. I learned how to pulverize my kid sister and see her dissolve in tears. Then I had to comfort her and tell her I was sorry she’d lost. Really, though, I was thrilled I’d won. At age 12, winning was it. As my baseball coach said: “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”
I did embrace one “Life” lesson. I decided to attend college. There, Backgammon was the game of choice. I played it to decompress during study breaks. Then came marriage, graduation, and kids. Old, familiar board games from my childhood crept back into my life along with our little rug rats – Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, even Sorry …. But the fun began for real when the kiddos were old enough to play my favorite, Scrabble. It was a big moment. We divided up the tiles, and I laid down my first word in family competition.
“What’s a ‘snarfz,’ Daddy?” my daughter asked.
“It’s a rodent that lives in Namibia.” I smiled, and pointed towards our World Books. “You should look it up.”
Across the table, my wife cleared her throat. “Really?”
“Oh, all right.” I shrugged, taking the tiles, and losing my turn. “Maybe there are snarfzs and we just haven’t discovered them.”
“Fabricate,” she smiled, patting me on the arm. “Triple word…. double letter… 52 points.”
“Slick.” I said.
“And by the book.”
Yes, rulebooks and reason still reside with Mothers, Inc. But you can’t fight genetics. Case in point. My son and his older sisters were playing hide-and-seek when the four of them piled into the kitchen.
“Joe’s cheating,” the girls said in three-part harmony. “He’s tagged out, but he won’t be ‘it.’”
Joe shrugged. “No I’m not.”
“Yeah-huh,” the girls said.
“I was touching the tree.” To prove his point, he held up a twig.
“I think they meant the trunk.” I hid a smile.
“But they didn’t say that.”
Karin looked at me and shook her head. “That acorn didn’t fall far from the tree.”
“We don’t want to play hide-n-seek with him anymore.” The girls pouted. “We want a game with real rules.”
“OK, OK.” I nodded and pointed at the table. “How about some Yahtzee?”
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.