What is your game? There seem to be an infinite number of games to play with one simple deck of playing cards. What game did you learn, perched on your parents’ or grandparents’ knees? What game brings you feelings of home and belonging?
My family’s game was Rummy. After we had mastered Go Fish, we were armed with egg carton card holders (30 years before the collective creativity of Pinterest) and introduced to the game, “according to Hoyle.” My sister and I learned the game by losing spectacularly to our parents. We learned to discard defensively, dropping a card we needed so that someone else didn’t get the card they needed. We watched everyone’s hand after getting burned by scooping up a long string of discards, only to have the next player go out on three Aces. We figured out that my father was always holding: keeping his cards until he could play them all at once with a victorious cackle. At our kitchen table—over ginger ale, corn chips, and a deck of cards—my sister and I were initiated into the social mechanics of our people: competition was fierce but friendly (once you learned to dish out your own victorious cackles), rules were followed, and intelligence and strategy were prized.
My sister went to college in Ohio and was dismayed to find that it was Euchre territory. I find Euchre players terrifying. A friend once gave me a quick tutorial in order to make a foursome to play the game. I couldn’t pick it up quickly enough and the three of them were furious. Years later, I witnessed the rages of a senior group that played Euchre at the library. From my office I could hear the angry voices rise until someone would pound the table and stomp off, swearing never to return. They would all be back the next week to start the angry cycle over again.