There are three things that Dad's family does well: turnip greens, sweet tea, and card games.
The cousins were not allowed to watch television at MamaLou and PapaLu’s house, unless PapaLu was already watching baseball (the Braves) or wrestling. If the weather was nice outside, the cousins were expected to go outside to play. If there was inclement weather outside, we would raid the toy closet.
The toy closet was a magical place behind an olive green door at the end of the shotgun hall. MamaLou tells stories that when PapaLu was building the house, she asked him to make the hall wider so that the kids would have a place to play. He did, and the next generation of cousins took advantage of the space (and many of the same toys) where our parents had played when they were younger. We had many options for board games in the toy closet. Although we played a lot of dominoes, Scrabble and Sorry, our favorite games were played with a deck of cards.
Playing cards was serious business in this family. I have many memories of watching my uncles and PapaLu play cards. All of the cousins wanted to play cards with the big kids, and we were taught how to play primer games at an early age. “Rat’s Tail” taught us how to follow suit. “Rummy” taught us how to plan tricks. “Doggone It” taught us how to bid on our hand. At the time these were just fun games, but we had no idea that we were being taught strategies for Spades, Hearts and Rook—the big kid games.
We picked up Spades first, and it’s still my favorite because I like to catch tricks. I can remember the cousins playing Spades around a card table in the living room while the big kids were playing cards in the other room or the “catch’em house” next door. The catch’em house was one of PapaLu’s rent houses that he turned into his shop. The old kitchen had a wood-burning stove, and the big kids would huddle around a card table next to the stove when they played serious card games. The cousins were never allowed to play in the catch’em house without the big kids’ supervision. (I think it’s called the “catch’em” house because it ended up catching everything that PapaLu would find for future projects. He would “get the idea” and bring something back to the catch’em house. Later, when it was incorporated into a project, he’d say he was “cooking with gas”.)
One Christmas Jerry was home and the cousins were playing Spades. He took our cards and told us that it was time we learned how to play Hearts. He explained the strategy and walked us through a few hands.
When the cousins played cards, the big kids would watch over our shoulders and coach us – tell us which cards to play when, how much to bid, and remind us of the rules. So even if it was technically a game of the cousins, the big kids always came around to help us.
This particular time I was looking at my hand, trying to decide how many to bid when Jerry pulled up a seat behind me and a whispered conversation took place:
Jerry: What are you doing?
Me: It’s my bid. How many should I say?
Jerry: Are you kidding? I’m going to teach you how to Shoot the Moon!
And we did! With Jerry’s coaching, we caught every single heart. The next hand was dealt.
Me: Can we do it again?
Jerry: No, but this time I’m going to teach you how to cheat!
And we did! And we got away with it!
Jerry would have argued that knowing how to cheat in a game is as important as knowing the game itself. Successful cheating is at the heart of all game strategy. Ask any of the cousins!
In Memory of Uncle Jerry
October 25, 1946 - August 14, 2007