A Dog in the Manger

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We’ve had the creche for over thirty years. It has traveled with us, ceramic pieces snugly wrapped in newspaper and stuffed tightly into a box that a boy’s brand new Nikes once came home in. The pieces have been carefully unwrapped, each year, by two sets of boy hands–both sets grown, now, into man hands. The figures have been displayed in six different homes.

There’s a tip of a nose missing on poor Joseph; a few of the animals have dinged horns. I notice, snapping photos, that the ceramic pieces are due for a good soap and hot water soak. But all in all, this nativity scene wears the years remarkably well. It wears the years easily, and it gathers in compatriots. The ceramic figures are joined now by plastic friends, glass friends, friends fashioned of straw and wood. The newest mute witness to baby Jesus’s birth is a hand-carved, wooden dog.

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My mother ordered the set for us on a hot August day early in the 1980’s. She was browsing a craft show–an annual event called the Farm Festival– in the town next to the city where I grew up, and she came upon a ceramic artist. Arrested by the artist’s Christmas figures, Mom stopped, and she picked up the pieces, turning them over, lifting the baby from his manger cradle, looking at the faces of the wise men, shepherds, Joseph, and Mary.

It was Mary’s face, she said, that sold her. Some manger scenes had beatific Mary’s, with mature and perfect upturned faces soaking in the grace raining down from heaven. My mother had a different image of Mary–an image of a frightened but awed young woman, a girl, really, of fourteen,who was exhausted by a long, mule-back trip and by the rigors of giving birth.

And yet, still limned with that awe.

 

marys-tired-face

This Mary, Mom thought, looked the part, and so she ordered sets for me and my brothers.

The artist delivered them in November or so, and that Christmas, Mark and I set the figures up for the first time, in our first married home.

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In those days, we were purists. We set out Mary and Joseph early in December, but we wrapped and hid the baby. He would appear on Christmas morning, a reminder of gifts not so material. The wise men would start their journey to the stable in a far part of the room, and each day, they would inch forward, traversing the mantle over the fireplace, the end tables, the window sills. They would miss the birth of the baby, and arrive at the manger on January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany.

wise-men

That was the same day we took down the Christmas tree. I felt a little sorry for the wise men, missing all the fun.

But then, the Christmas in the year that my mother died, we set things up, the waiting parents, the hovering shepherds, the empty manger, the distant wise men…we set them up, and then, on Christmas morning, we couldn’t find Jesus.

It seemed like some kind of tiny ceramic tragedy, a meaningful metaphor for where we were–where I was–in life.

“Where’s Jesus????!!!” I demanded of my husband and my stepson, and they frantically searched in drawers and cubbies and the Nike box. But the baby couldn’t be found.

“I can’t find Jesus,” I mourned, not hearing that irony, and then one day, Jesus turned up, wrapped in a humble scrap of newspaper, stuck up on a high shelf, unassuming, tiny, but very, very important.

I marched on past the symbolism of the event. The next year, we welcomed everyone, baby and kings included, to the stable from the very first December day the scene appeared in the living room.

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The crowd at the birth has grown.

For many years, every gifting occasion brought me a new Willow Tree angel–angels with books and flowers and pineapples and babies, angels who celebrated hospitality and gardening, reading and motherhood. They were different sizes; they clutched different symbols, but they all eventually made their way to the manger.

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They were joined by other angels, gifted or collected, tiny fragile glass angels; angels, woven of some kind of straw, lifting trumpets to heaven; salt glazed angels. The tallest Willow Tree angel looms over her tiniest spun glass sister, but they are a warm and welcoming phalanx, watching over the baby, trumpeting his birth.

Angels 1.jpg

On Epiphany, we wrap them up and stow them with their ceramic family to wait for the next year’s Yule. The shoe box, like the feet of the boys who wear the sneakers, has, of necessity, grown.

Jesus’s family is joined now by Pez people, once an essential component of boys’ Christmas stockings. The little, flippy-headed dispensers–Mr and Mrs. Claus, a snowman, an elf–are unlikely companions for the religious ceramic figures. But a young man was insistent one Christmas–“You can’t kick them out!” he pleaded–and since then, Pez joins shepherd; plastic shoulders nudge in, next to a bevy of angels.

Pez guys.jpg

A plastic snow man has snuck in, too, one of a set we made from the little drink potion bottles that Jim loved for a while–Mio-type drinks; the kind you squirt into water bottles to change your pure, clear, mountain water into a soft drink. We made enough for a checkers set–Team Snowman against Team Penguin. Only one survived, and he stands guard, now, too, over the baby.

The ceramic core group seems undisturbed. They spread out, open ranks, welcome the visitors. It’s as one would expect, and as it should be.

This year, the newest visitor is a hand-carved Thurber dog–hand-carved by Kim’s father. Kim and I both love James Thurber, and we both love art that is shaped by love and inner vision, and this summer, during a visit, she surprised me with this special gift.

thurber-dog-with-jesus

The cherished dog lives on my desk for most of the year, but this Christmas, I could tell, he wanted so much to join the group at the manger. They welcomed him; they made him room right next to where the baby sleeps on his ceramic straw.

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Little children, of course, are drawn like magnets to the scene–the breakable figures just the right size for child hands. I spent some years yelling, like a harpy, “PUT JESUS DOWN!” and then I discovered a wonderful little Avon nativity scene, sweet-faced, indestructible little figures, colorful and irresistible to little ones. Those figures joined the scene, mamas and babies getting along just fine, although this year, they found their own stable in a cave made by leaning books on the book shelves. (Some authors say the stable was, really, a cave, and the little plastic people may have been looking, this season, for a stronger sense of authenticity. But they know they’re always welcome at the ceramic family tableau, just the same.)

Avon folks 1.jpg

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Some might see our nativity gathering as motley and irreverent; some might see our family that way, too.

But I believe in a baby Jesus with shining eyes and a deep, gurgling laugh. I believe that tired young mother and her stalwart husband must have had elastic senses of humor, humor that stretched to include unforeseen journeys and visitors and outlandish requests. You want me to do WHAT??? Mary asked the angel, laughing. But she did it. Hand in hand with Joseph, a baby nestled in the crook of her other arm, off marched that valiant fourteen-year-old, off to change the fate of mankind.

I think she would have put her arms out and welcomed the stiff, plastic visitors, the whimsical, snuffling, comical hound, the mismatched angels determined to blast out the joy. Mary would have planted a kiss on the broken nose of her husband Joseph.

That was the Mary my mother, years ago, shopping at a craft show in the town of my birth on a hot August day, saw, and that’s the Mary who shares, on the top of my oft-painted living room dresser, the birth of her special boy with all comers.

The Weight of Stuff

shelves
I pull out a drawer and gasp. It brims with  electronics–cords and devices, chargers and controllers. It is so full that I don’t know how the last person to open it got it closed. Now I am committed: this drawer is going to have to be cleaned out.

Jim comes in as I am hefting it out of the dresser and lowering it to the floor.

“Yeah,” he says. “Dad and I just throw electronic stuff in there.”

I give him the Mom Look over the top of my glasses, and then I begin to sort.

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I find:

–pristine ear buds and a never-used charger for one of our current phones.
–a complete history of our smart phone lives in discarded boxes, some with bits and parts of add-ons we will never use again.
–cords for video game systems from the 1990’s.
–accessories for old computers and game systems and controllers and phones that we never used when we had the devices.
–a stack of owner’s manuals for things we no longer own.

In and among these dubious treasures is truly usable stuff–cords for our laptops, storage cases, a handful of batteries. One or the other other of us has probably rampaged through the house at some point, stomping and yelling, “Why can’t I ever find the thing I need when I need it?”

The answer is that we are buried in stuff. I am, finally, cleaning out the cupboards.

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We live in a lovely 1930’s house that was designed and inhabited by a smart couple, an engineer and his wife. They insured that there is plenty of built-in storage: capacious closets, bookshelves, cabinets with doors that close to hide what lurks behind. There is a linen closet and a pantry cupboard. There are hall closets in the front and in the back. There are nooks under the eaves in each of the bedrooms that provide space for big and bulky things. Our dry basement offers a hidden storage room and old kitchen cabinets.

It is, really, more usable storage space than we’ve had in any other home. To that, we add our own storage units–the repurposed cabinets we use for an entertainment center; the old dresser I repainted that anchors the living room, bedroom storage, and basement shelving.

There is stuff filling every single inch.

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When we moved in, on a weekend, rushing to get ready for the work week bearing down on us, we said this:

“Just put it anywhere it fits. We’ll go through the storage spaces, one by one, and we’ll sort it out as we go.”

Tonight, I am looking at things I haven’t seen or touched since that weekend five years ago. I am picking up and turning over and deciding how to dispose of things that I didn’t need when I moved them.

Yet I moved them anyway.  Those things had some kind of hold on me, demanding to be taken wherever I went.

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Some things seem to need approval from a higher authority to be disposed of. So paperwork for cars that sputtered, died, and were replaced long ago, lives on in my filing cabinets, along with a mortgage for a home we sold in 1995.There are folders full of defunct medical insurance information. There are human resources packets from jobs in a different state.

Why are we keeping all this?  Mark and I look at each other helplessly.

It’s all….official.

We buy a shredder and begin, officially, to grind it all up.

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There are things we stashed, thinking vaguely that we might need them. The laptop stayed out where it would get plenty of use; accompanying CD’s for a trial of some publishing software lingered in the bottom of a drawer. Other stuff layered on top of it–lots of layers over lots of acquisitions.  When we happen on the software trial again, we don’t own the laptop and none of the current technology will even support this cute and quaint program.

We get on line to see where one recycles old CD’s.

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There are gifts given by people we hold very dear–cheap mugs from kids that sport our initials or that say, “World’s Best Dad.”  They are chipped and worn, and we each have other favorites–thick, heavy mugs that weigh substantially in our hands and keep our beverages warm a long time. But how do you toss the things that sweet, grubby  hands weighed and measured, plotting surprises? How to recycle something paid for with carefully counted out cash earned by pounding the pavement day after day, delivering the paper?

We take them out of the china cupboard, we roll them around in our hands. Finally, we wrap them in newspaper and stash them in boxes which go down to the basement, awaiting a judgement we’re not quite ready to give.

We move on to other gifts.  There are painstakingly stitched and hammered homemade seasonal decorations. There is a kind of crockpot thing that melts waxy scented cubes, wafting enticing aromas through the house. The enticing aromas make Mark and Jim sneeze.

Still, the electric smeller-thingie is brand new, and a gift from a  special friend…

We start a Goodwill pile.

I find a beautiful hand-glazed blue tray, a tray that had pride of place on holiday tables and at potluck dinners, a tray that held cookies and moist and tender slices of banana bread studded with chocolate chips, and that offered up halves of deluxe grilled cheese sandwiches for Friday night dinners in three different houses. The tray was a special gift. Now it has a corner missing. I do not want to lose this tray, to throw away its beauty and its memory and its meaning. I want to take it outside when the spring comes, sandwich it between layers of heavy cloth, smash it into shards. I want to use it, and the chipped cups and plates we’ve saved,–special pieces, pieces by local and beloved potters. I want to create a very special mosaic next to Mark’s fire pit.

I take myself sternly to task. Will you REALLY do it? I demand.

I look around at the lightness of newly organized shelves, and the mosaic suddenly seems like a do-able dream. I gently wrap the tray and place it in a box, neatly labelled, and I put it in an easy to access place. If I don’t follow through in a year, it will go.

But there are some things worth keeping.

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I find plastic hands and swords from action figures, a battery-powered alarm clock, and episode guides to DVD seasons long ago traded in. I find a baby blanket and seven jars without tops. I find a can of fruit cocktail that tells me it is best used by March 12, 2014.

I find boxes and magazines and letters.

I sort and consider and dispose.

And my house seems to sigh in relief.  When I open the door to come in after work, things feel lighter and less pressing. Every time I sort a shelf or a drawer, I lighten the oppression of stuff.

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There are reasons I haven’t tackled this job until now.

The sorting is daunting, of course. Just opening a drawer clogged with random bits and pieces–every single thing requiring consideration, deliberation, determination,–is a weighty act. Then to commit to their appropriate disposal–well, how long will that take? Because of course, no good deed goes unpunished: sorted, items then demand to be taken to the thrift shop, delivered to the recycling bin, mashed into their smallest selves and relegated to the trash can.

Cleaning the clutter is a lot like work. That’s one reason to assiduously avoid it.

But there’s another, deeper process going on.  Every time I weigh that long-kept item in my hand, every time I say, “No, I will truly never use this—never again make a label with my battery-operated label machine, never put these once-important  pictures into a fun collage, never turn these boxes into festive gift containers–“…every time I make that kind of admission, I am giving something up. I am acknowledging a day that will never come. I am relinquishing a dream that seemed so easy, so important, to live out at one time, but that I now know will never really happen. I am saying goodbye to a hope or a plan or a creative impulse that no longer belongs in the life I live today.

I am putting a lid on a younger self and bidding her a firm farewell.

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But that’s my job, isn’t it?  Every decision point bids me to let something go. If I refuse to listen, if I cling and clutch, that weight goes with me. It slows me down. It fills my arms and hands and heart, and I cannot embrace the new treasures that a quirky, unpredictable fate rattles in its dice cup and tosses into my path.

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And, at the end of the day, it is just stuff. The purpose of the device is gone; it has no relevance to us, today, and so it needs to go. The love that went into the gift–we hope it’s still there; we don’t need the holey old blue socks to remind us.

Some of it, maybe,we can re-purpose and reuse. Some of it can be donated, keeping someone else warm, scenting someone else’s holiday home, making someone else smile when they use it. Some can be recycled, mashed down to the essence, and used to create something that, we hope, will make a life better or easier or brighter.

And some just has to go, its thing-ly lifespan finished.

And then I can go on, too–lightened and freed, open to next things.

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It may be time of life. But it heartens me to be letting go of the weight of stuff.

Hands Like Feet and The Company of Knuckleheads: A Comment or Two on the Playing of Cards

Coffee cup and cards

It is a cool, gray, wet day; summer has suddenly broken.  I pull open the second drawer of the lowboy in the dining room, looking for a pen, and I notice all the decks of cards jumbled in the back, neglected and patient.

The cards.  This rain.

I am transported to a summer, back when I was ten or twelve, and my family had a cottage on the lake, a cottage in kind of a swanky little rustic resort area not far from my hometown.  People from Squirrel Hill–people with money–came there to summer, or to rent a place for two weeks or a month; they roughed it in ramshackle little cottages with no insulation, no dishwashers, slapping screen doors, and sand in every cranny. Those folks had drinks in the backyard every night; their glasses, full of amber liquid and melting ice cubes, wobbled on uneasy little metal tables. They sat on old enameled metal lawn chairs, talking about the boats they docked at the marina.  Their kids spent their days on the beach or in those boats, hair bleaching out, their tanned hides growing progressively darker.

We were there only because of an ad in the paper–“Cottage free for two weeks if you’ll paint.”

“Why not?” agreed my parents. “It will be an adventure.”  The cottage was tiny; my brothers were old enough to help.  Painting would be the work of a day or two, and then we could kick back and enjoy a beachy break from the same-old, same-old.

We jumbled shorts and t-shirts and swimsuits into boxes; we planned food for two weeks. We bundled up the dog, her chain, and her kibble, and we drove off in the packed Buick, on a sunny Sunday, to take possession of that little kingdom for that little limited time.

And then, of course, we woke up Monday and it rained.

So I baked cookies in the tiny electric oven–an adventure in itself; I’d never used anything but a gas oven.  Is this how other people live? I pondered. I put the cookies on a tray–peanut butter cookies with squares of Hershey bar melting onto their tops in lieu of chocolate kisses.  I washed my dishes.

The cookies were gone by lunch, and everyone was bumping into one another, and the rain poured down and threatened to ignite a family rebellion.

And then we found the card drawer.

Seems to me most every home had a card drawer, in those days–usually in the kitchen, top row, right next to the thing drawer.  The card drawer had decks of cards neatly stored in their cellophaned boxes. It had pads of paper for keeping score.  Sometimes those were official score-keeping pads from card parties, or they could be little tablets given out by the local gas station at Christmas, with “Ron’s Texaco: We’ll pick you up” and a picture of a tow truck printed in blue ink across the bottom.

There would be a handful of pens in a tightly rubber-banded bunch–Bic Stics, three-quarters used up, or click pens with advertising on their barrels.  There might, in that drawer, be a handful of change.  That would be in case you were playing skat, or even, for the really serious and daring, poker—pennies and nickels stashed to reward your prowess.

The cottage’s card drawer saved the day; we set up two card tables on the rickety screened-in sunporch, pulled out chairs, put two decks together, dealt out hands of seven, and started, as the cool rain fell noisily around us, on the first of many hands of 500 Rummy.  Someone put a single on the record player, with one of those funny yellow puzzle piece/grabby things in the hole in the middle of the record. It seems to me we listened to a lot of “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am” that summer, music collections being limited.

And we played cards and laughed and complained, and we crowed at our own genius and bitterly resented the good fortune of others.  I remember a shifting group with friends arriving and brothers going off to work, and at night, the teams changing to grown ups with ash trays and cigarette smoke and maybe a beer but certainly a never-ending pot of coffee perking on the stove, and cheap thick white mugs balanced on the corners of the card table–half of them smudged with lipstick prints.

Playing cards seemed like the universal past-time then; playing cards saved the day until the sun, finally, came out, and the painting got done, and the blue waters of Lake Erie pulled us to the sand.

I realized, remembering this, how deeply embedded card playing was into my growing up years.  Back then, toddlers watched the big people laughing uproariously, dealing cards, slapping them down on the dining room table’s glossy wooden surface, and they knew, from their very first knowing, that those mysterious, shiny-coated, rectangular cards contained fun in their shapes and pictures.  Toddlers learned, when they finally got those cards into their own pudgy fingers, that the cards were to be respected. Fat little hands got slapped for folding cards or throwing cards or dog-earing them.  Growing up, all of our jokers were marked in ball point ink–the ‘J’ crossed off, and “7-Clubs” scribbled in, because some little one (or even some big one) had carelessly lost a card.

We learned to play War, the very first game, where someone split a deck roughly into two stacks, and the pair of participants flipped cards over.  The high card took all until you ran into a tie, and then someone would intone, in a mock English accent, “Of course, you KNOW: THIS means WAR!” On top of your ‘tie’ card, you put another face-down, and then another on top of that, face up.

The person with the greater third card flipped first.  Whoever had the higher buried card took the whole pile of six, made sure they were all top side up, neatened them, put them at the very bottom of the pile.

To win, you must gather in ALL the cards, every single one; there were always cries of ‘No fair!’ along the way. (You weren’t supposed to pull from the middle; you weren’t supposed to know where your high cards were; but sleight of hand was always taking place.) Sometimes it got so bad a grown-up had to intervene; that was chancy because the whole game could be cancelled if the hostilities had escalated beyond a civilized, controllable point.

We would not tolerate cheating in others, but we hoped things would not progress to that dire pass; a good, satisfying game of War could take all afternoon.

Once War was mastered, a kid could progress to Crazy Eights, Go Fish, and, finally, 500 Rummy, a game that called for skill and finesse.  Should you lay down cards as you go? Maybe it was better to take a chance and save them, lulling the other players into complacency as they saw your burgeoning hand, awaiting your turn to slap them down with a flourish and shout, “I’m out!”  Keeping score was a complicated business; aces were fifteen (even if used as 1’s, a point sometimes bitterly argued.) Everything up to the 10 card counted as five; the rest were worth ten points.

If you weren’t the one to go out, you counted up your lay-downs and subtracted from that total the amount of cards in your hand.  Discerning eyes examined your math and that of the scorekeeper.  Some days, no matter how smart you played, your luck was awful, and the cards didn’t play. Some days no one could touch you.

By the time you mastered Rummy, you might be ready to learn a little poker from older card sharps with an eye for your nickels.

I learned a lot playing cards, learned about honesty and negotiation, how to stand up for myself, when to consult the rule book, when to call on an ultimate authority.  I learned to try not to crow at victory and to lose like a champ.

And then, around age 11 or so, the opportunity arose to learn the REAL game.  My parents taught me (probably because they needed a partner, but also because it was a true rite of passage out of Little Kid-dom) to play pinochle.

Oh, the magic of that game–with its two chances for points, meld and tricks.  There was the mystery of trump and the fact that points were NOT unlimited–I could win here, but I had to deal with reality.  Bidding to 36 when I only had eight meld was a certain path to failure.

Sometimes I played three-handed, on my own ‘team’; then there might be the chance of three cards in a kitty–the chance that one of those cards would be exactly the one I needed to give me a perfect hand.  There was also the chance that I’d turn over three nines and have nothing–nothing!–and have to throw the hand in, disgraced and undignified.

Sometimes I had a partner, and her cards would shore up my weaknesses and I would gather in the tricks and try very very hard not to gloat.  And sometimes my partner’s cards and mine did not sync in any way, and we fell short of our bid and watched the scorekeeper use the minus sign to tally our points.

Sometimes when my Uncle Bill stopped in to visit, the cards would come out. Dad and Uncle Bill would bid each other up, out of sheer brotherly competition; Bill would be moaning all the while, “Oh, I got a hand like a foot!” and then he’d one-up my father.  My mother, who had a good solid hand but had dropped out of the bidding when it left the land of realistic expectations, would grow more and more white-lipped.

Occasionally, one of the men and his partner would make the outrageous bid; but more often, with roars of laughter, they would throw the hand in, take the hit in points, delight in the fact he’d kept his brother from a big score.  My mother would stomp off to the kitchen to perk a new pot of coffee, thoroughly disgusted.

Card parties were a thing in those days; at the church we attended, they were the fund raiser of choice, not just a way to make some money for the Altar and Rosary Society or the Holy Name Club, but a chance for grown-ups to go out and have fun.  They brought home prizes–a table prize might be an African violet or a bottle of good booze; the door prize might be something more valuable–a twenty-five dollar gift certificate at the Acme Grocery Store, or a free lube job at the Gulf station.

My mother was often a planner in the card party world; I learned that playing cards was not only fun, but it could be a serious, disciplined enterprise, as well.

I sorted friends by their ability to play pinochle, or not–my good buddy Liza and I often started our weekend adventures playing a couple of games of pinochle with my parents before heading out, wits sharpened, to find whatever passed for action on  Friday or Saturday night.  I married a pinochle player, and that was one area of the union that always played out right for the three short years we struggled on.

We played cards in the break room of the little parochial school where I taught middle school English (and sometimes history, art, and phys ed) and, post-marriage, I invited friends and family to my tiny efficiency apartment for weekend card nights.

And then, having married Mark, weekends settled down; other events often provided entertainment.  Eventually, though, the need to play cards bubbled back up and a group of us women banded together to indulge our pinochle habit. We met once a month, taking turns to host.  The party of players ebbed a little and then became steady. We were a group; we named ourselves the Knuckleheads. We had a motto: “What’s trump?”–because, so often, we would lay our cards down flat to listen to one of Rosemary’s stories–stories that made us rock with laughter, stream with tears,–and then have no idea where we were when finally we picked up our hands to continue.

And then a move, and another–and changes in everyone’s circumstances—and the landing–a happy landing, at that–in a place where the game of choice is not pinochle. It is euchre, and I have yet to learn.

But the cards still wait in the second-down drawer–some packs have never been opened.  Once in a while, a whim will catch the three of us, and we’ll deal out hands of three and roll nickels around and draw from the pile in the center of the table, playing skat–trying to last each other out till we reach that magic 31, or trying to capitalize on a same-suit hand right after the deal.

Once, even, the Knuckleheads did a Wild Ohio Tour, sharing two queen beds in a hotel around the corner so we could stay up until two playing hand after hand of pinochle at my table, catching up on the events of our lifetimes.  The next day we had lunch at a bar and grill called Knuckleheads, where the staff beamed kindly at our gray heads bobbing over our hamburgers–more used to bare-armed, tattooed, bottle-babies who pull up on noisy bikes than to well-trimmed ladies of a certain age pulling out pictures of grandkids and pets.

But for the most part, the playing of cards has slipped away–it’s a special event now rather than a regular fact of life.  That’s because, I’m sure, of many factors–the fact, for one, that I need no longer break open an actual deck to play a game of solitaire, Spider or otherwise.  I have electronic opponents against whom I can test my skill at hearts.  The busyness of life has changed our modus operandi.  It’s been ages since I’ve heard of a card party fund raiser, and these days, people would think it rude to just stop in and visit on, say, a Wednesday night.

I am blessed with a wonderful life and not at all bemoaning the past, but I admit to feeling a great nostalgia when I pulled open the drawer on this rainy afternoon and saw all those lonely, lovely decks of cards.  I think that maybe I need to invite my grandkids to visit, and have a rummy old afternoon; I think that when I go to see my godchild next month, I’ll slip a couple of decks into my luggage and do my best to co-opt her kids. Everyone should, I think, hear the slapping of the cards in one little corner of her memory, remember the raucous echoed laughter, the moaning exclamation, “Oh, I got a hand like a foot!”, and know the joy of being the one, for once, whose cards are in line with the winning.

Tonight is family movie night; we’ll pull up a NetFlix film on the Apple TV, or maybe even go old-school and pop in a DVD James has borrowed from the library.  But this weekend, I think, come Friday night, I’ll make some popcorn, pull out the cards, and challenge the boyos to a rousing game of Skat, no holds barred.

Life bids me to firmly let go of some pleasures; others I simply outgrow.  I cannot fit them all in my limited luggage, after all; I sort the lasting from the lost and move on.  But I know this: as long as I have the skill to deal, the wit to count, and the will to laugh,–as long as I have the daring partners with whom to collude, and I can take joy in the possibilities as yet to be turned over–as long as those things are all in place, I’ll still be playing cards.