Classic Blessings

I grew up in northern Indiana. My parents weren’t gamers by any stretch of the imagination and still won’t even consider playing one. They did, however, buy an occasional Parker Brothers title as a Christmas present for me in the 70’s but it was always difficult to find anyone to play with. I have a sister but because she’s seven years older than I am, I think at the time, I was just playing the role of the younger brother and crimping her style.

There was one game, however, that my parents would play, and like most Midwesterner’s, Euchre was king. I have fond memories of piling in the car and travelling the few hours south to my aunt’s and uncle’s house for the weekend watching the four of them stay up late, drinking, talking, and playing cards at the kitchen table. Even today, a whiff of beer sometimes triggers strong memories of my uncle.

Most everyone in my high school knew how to play Euchre and it was definitely the go-to game people would play during study hall, at swim-meets waiting for your event, and at the overnight movie my school hosted. It was the game kids learned, or maybe more accurately, absorbed from their parents; we taught our kids long ago and we’ve played a lot of rounds on vacations over the years. A deck of cards is something you just never left out of your travel bag and they most certainly wouldn’t have been left behind on backpacking trips. It makes me feel good that even though my son enjoys Pathfinder, Arkham Horror, Magic, etc., he still enjoys playing Euchre with his friends.

Those timeless, classic games have an interesting way of weaving themselves into the fabric of our lives that it’s difficult to remember who or how we learned them. You just don’t see people picking Euchre off the shelf, grabbing a “Teacher Needed” or “Players Wanted” flag and sitting down at a table to read the rules. You just know how to play or you don’t and with so many new games flying off the shelves these days, grabbing an old classic card game and sitting down to learn it from the rules isn’t something most people ever consider doing.

Learning a classic game is a much different experience than learning the most recent Essen release or the latest Kickstarter arrival. When someone sits down to teach you one of these games it’s a much more intimate experience, a sharing of years of knowledge, a passing of information much like ancient cultures convey their history through story and parable. If you watch closely, you can even hear it in the way they speak in semi-hushed tones and see it in the shuffling of the cards, a muscle memory-driven activity, a welcoming and unlocking of years of shared and sometimes private memories and deeply held connections.

At my last Great Lakes Games convention, I had a transformative experiences while learning Cribbage. It was late and many people had already left the gaming room but I still wanted to keep going. We’ve all been there, knowing we’re sacrificing tomorrow for the hope of more today. I asked a friend if he could teach me Cribbage. I knew he’d grown up playing the game and he happily agreed but we needed to find a board and a deck of cards. Within minutes we’d located another friend whose face completely lit up when we mentioned what we were looking for. He immediately ran off to get his personal board which he’d had for years and when he returned he told us all about its history, where he’d gotten the pegs, etc. The physical components of the game immediately set the stage for this social connection between the three of us but more broadly, between all of our pasts, that connection to shared memories of uncles drinking beer, smoke curling up from a parent’s cigarette, a rattling kitchen window fan struggling to cool the house on a hot summer night, hearing your mother laughing at a joke your father told – the both of them younger than you are now, an old friend pretending to be W.C. Fields using a pretzel rod as a substitute for a stogie, the sound of playing cards sliding against each other during an expertly-executed riffle & bridge.

At my last game night, after everyone left, I asked the host if we could play a round of Cribbage. He was my teacher four months ago and after rushing off to find his board, the first thing he did after setting up the board was to tell me its history, how it was his grandmother’s, how he just used finishing nails as pegs, and the story of how he was taught by a Korean War Hero who lived up the street from him when he was a kid. Those are the stories and experiences that define why I love this hobby. Teach your children and friends, pass on those stories and experiences. We’ll all be richer for it.

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