A deck of playing cards and a bue pen sit on top of a piece of paper with card scores on it


A deck of playing cards and a bue pen sit on top of a piece of paper with card scores on it
Photo of our score card, November 2022, by Monica B.

We have a card game in our family that the grown ups played for years. When you visited my grandparents upstate cottage — the place I remember them living for almost my entire life, their Adirondack mountain retirement escape from childhoods and then adulthoods through their own middle age in New York City, coming up in Lower East side tenements then raising five kids of their own in Queens —you were going to play cards. When we were kids we waited years to be invited to the grown up table, playing our own games at the kids table, and knew one day we could join in the ‘real’ card game, too. Eventually we all learned how to play the game, and soon our names were included on the scoresheets.

You see, we played a game that might not end when the visit was over. There was money involved, but a lot of games were to be continued when the same grouping of people was present next, so payouts might happen months or even years after the game was started. My Grandpa Tony used to save all the scorecards. You could go through them, and see when an assemblage of folks played, some you knew were never coming back, some you knew would all be there that evening. When you played you looked to see if there was an open game with the people at the table that night. One variation meant a new scoresheet was started.

In my family certain cards get little songs and dances, and when the card appears you either sing them or do the accompanying movement. We utter small phrases for the role other cards play—ones that fit perfectly into a set or run, or a card you’ve been waiting the whole hand for—in Ukrainian and Polish. Some of the only words I know in those ancestral languages of mine are from playing cards.

This past weekend my mom came to visit, and she and I played a lot of cards. “One more game?” “Yup.” A different card game than our family one, but it was still a known and comfortable way to pass the time be together, and catch up on our lives. We know how to play cards, like most people on both sides of my family do. We shuffle well and deal fast. Though we had our family game at the cottage, we also both grew up playing lots of other card games. We like cards, and cards like us. We sing the song or do the movements when certain cards appear, often without changing the expression on our faces or losing focus, because we know it is simply what you do when you see that card.

She left to go back home this morning, and as I straightened up, I debated whether or not to keep our scorecard from the weekend. I ultimately decided not to, but memories of old scorecards stuffed into an empty coffee can next to the address book by the phone—the phone that was a shared landline where you could sometimes pick up and hear neighbors talking if they were using the line—sat with me as I finished straightening, and I stopped for a bit to sit with those memories, remembering some of the names on the scoresheets, picturing the yellow formica table that looked over the big hill with the lake, which we’d probably walked down to earlier that day, in the distance, hearing the rooster crow, always hoping we’d see a deer or a fox amble by, happy to be at the grown ups table, and hoping that when this hand was done someone would say “One more game?” and someone else would say “Yup”.


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