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Gristmill: Deal Me In

Wed, 12/29/2021 - 18:02

Picture the scene: Your ginger ale on the rocks sits on a coaster among the glasses of beer and gin and tonics on a dining room table further outfitted with bowls of pretzels, peanuts, Ruffles potato chips. You’re the squirt at the proceedings, but treated as an adult as you’re initiated into the world of playing cards.

Ideally, it was your grandparents doing the initiating, preferably the World War II crowd; they knew how to relax. So, what’s a good game for four to six? Whist? For us it was hearts. No TV, though one sat silently across the way, a piece of furniture as big as an icebox. No phones, though that rotary job on the wall in the kitchen would do in a pinch.

And was that at the rambling place hard up against the mountain above Suffern? Or was it with the other set of grandparents and thus at a folding table set up in front of a sliding glass door looking out on a white Florida Panhandle beach and the Gulf of Mexico beyond.

If that standard of living and leisure time will never be replicated, at least the card-playing can be. And this week it was, finally, as Omicron raged, providing the means, motive, and opportunity for family togetherness by way of the rider back laminated deck of 52 I’ve been carrying around since Thanksgiving.

The card game. Why do I think it can save us all? Maybe it’s the sense of recapturing something we’ve lost, which can be hard to pin down. Let me try: Do you want your sports heroes to be these overgrown children today, playing video games on a leather couch in their spare time? Or would you prefer a shaggy collection of rogues riding a bus, like the most famous card-playing team I know of, the Milwaukee Brewers of the 1982 World Series, Gorman Thomas, Ned Yost, Rollie Fingers, and the rest — Harvey’s Wallbangers, men who’d lived a little and drunk a little more. 

Or this: I once worked luggage crew for a tour company in Alaska, and the guy I got along with best had served time for shooting at someone with a handgun. Uh, as harmlessly as that can be done. Turns out he’d enjoyed prison — “I loved those guys,” he said — lifting weights and, yes, playing cards. We got in some fine games of gin rummy in our down time at the airport luggage carousel. Bridging divides, you might say.

Fast-forward to Monday night. Okay, so it was only a kids’ round of crazy eights we played. It was a start.

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