women of a certain age are like sunflowers; they know how to turn their faces to the sun.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


All I can do is play the game the way the cards fall.
-James Michener

Games figure prominently in my family vacations at the lake house. And they always have, as far back as I can remember.

When I was young, there was no cable TV. Reception was poor here in the north woods(and that was on a good day! On bad days? Fuggedaboudit...)

I remember my father perched precariously upon the sloping roof of the guest cottage, my mother within the dark recesses of the cabin yelling out, "A little to the left!" as he wiggled the antenna atop the roof's peak, straining for something more legible than a blurry figure in a snowstorm of static.

So, after dinner, we played games to entertain ourselves. We played Go Fish and Old Maid. We graduated to Michigan and Gin Rummy, Euchre and Hearts

My grandmother knew cards; she was a grand slam bridge champion. That was beyond my skill set, but she did teach me numerous ways to play solitaire one rainy summer weekend at the lake.

Later in our card shark education, we learned the completely masochistic game of Blackout or Oh Hell!, which involves correctly predicting the exact number of tricks you will take in order to score - no more, no less. While nephew Will's assessment of the game as "the stupidest game ever!" is compelling, I have to go with Baby Boy's girlfriend Katherine's name for the game:

"That didn't work out the way it was supposed to..."

We also played games that didn't involve cards. One of our favorites was Milton Bradley's Aggravation (similar to Sorry, but with a more honest name; I never met ANYONE who was really sorry to send an opponent back to the starting point.)

(We still play Aggravation today. My Dad, DH, and I are currently engaged in a week long Aggravation-fest. DH and I have each won four games; my father has won five. Who will be the most aggravating family member? We wait with bated breath...)

On sunny days, we competed in games of badminton and croquet. But the queen of the outdoor games and the only one we still play with any regularity is: shuffleboard.

Our front yard is the only place I know, outside of retirement communities and cruise ships, with it's own bona fide, regulation sized shuffleboard court.

For those of you not in the know, shuffleboard involves using a stick to push a weight (or puck, as we call them) down a long course onto a scoring grid with different point values assigned to various areas. The players (or puck-ers as we gleefully christened them in our adolescence, back when calling someone a "mother puck-er" evoked gales of laughter) must stay behind the line, trusting their final shove to propel the puck into the appropriate scoring field.

Think curling, only without ice...

Or brooms...

In my young adult days, I theorized that my uneven play on the concrete slab was due to the amount of gin my father put into the gin and tonics he so hospitably provided to the opposing team. They could have downed a bull elephant.

Now that I am older and wiser less prone to self delusion, I can own up to my own inconsistencies.

I over shoot. I under shoot. I drift right. I drift left.

I am a very bad shuffleboard player.

Cold, stone, sober.

But I still play the game.


Because the game has much to teach me about life:

  • If you don't put enough effort into it, you fall short of your goals.
  • If you push too hard, you blow right past the opportunities that lie before you.
  • And sometimes, you need a little help from your partner.

I also still play games of solitaire. Only now I do it on my laptop. When I need to think. Or procrastinate. Or both...

I take a fair amount of heat from my family about the way I "waste" my time. Seems they think I am frittering away my life in pointless pursuits.

Which generally leads me into paroxysms of self-justification and rationalization.

But here's the thing. Solitaire teaches me too.

It teaches me:

  • If you don't win the first time, you can restart the game and try a different strategy. Never give up in defeat.
  • If you make a mistake, it's not the end of the world. A fresh start is available at the push of a button.
  • You get better results if you look past your next play. Planning ahead is good.
  • At the same time, you can only play the hand you're dealt. Sometimes the cards life deals out aren't exactly advantageous. Do the best you can. That's all anyone can do.

These are important life lessons, and ones I access every day as I write and design. As I live out my days as wife, mother, friend, and child of God.

But the most important thing solitaire on my computer teaches me comes in the form of a question. At the end of each game, my computer asks, "Would you like to play again?"

There was a dark period in my life when I was unsure of the answer to that question. Life seemed somehow too challenging, too difficult to process, too intimidating, too tragic...

Too hard.

I was afraid to make mistakes; afraid to try; afraid to fail; afraid to live...

Afraid to play the game.

It is a fearful conclusion to reach, when you are too scared to live, yet too scared to die.

When you are unsure if you will ever make it around the board and safely home.

That's when you call on your partners. And let them help you to begin again.

As I did.

As I do.

Every single morning.

Until the game is over, some unknown and unforeseen day in my future.

Do I want to play again?

You bet your sweet ass I do...


Donna Lee said...

And play again and again.

Laura said...

What a wonderful way to put it.

Anonymous said...

I'm pro-solitaire, too! How do you restart your game? I don't think mine allows that and so often, I would like to try a second (or third) strategy.