Playing cards. You know, aces and kings, deuces and jacks, 52 card pick up?
Does anyone play cards anymore? Or are we all on our devices watching YouTube, or playing Gameboy, possibly with someone half a continent away? Maybe even playing chess or bridge with someone in the another room, possibly receiving illicit advice by electronic signaling as in the cheating chess player[i].
Whatever happened to old-fashioned family fun?
On impulse last September as I packed to accompany Carmen returning to The Philippines, I threw a double pack of playing cards (a Bridge set) into my suitcase.
(Yes, I said my suitcase, as in one suitcase. I was going to be away for a month but I only needed one as I had left a lot of my clothes behind in The Philippines from before. I wouldn’t need much else besides underwear and socks and my meds. And besides, we are only allowed two bags each and Carmen had filled the other three bags to bursting with pasalobong, household items, pharmaceutical and beauty products and of course shoes and handbags. When we got to the Philippines Airlines counter at Pearson and lifted the two big bags onto the scales both were seriously overweight (73 and 71 lbs respectively when the limit was 70). Luckily we were traveling Business Class and when the ticket agent was about to charge us extra she referred to her supervisor who scowled and directed her to let us pass with the priority tags prominently displayed. At least we weren’t required to repack there in the Departures Hall, exposing all her contraband. I hadn’t realized how much Carmen had packed until I tried to carry the bags downstairs and then lift them onto the back of the van but by then it was too late to reprioritize everything, and besides, I had the relationship to preserve. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my advancing years it’s, when it comes to preserving peace within a relationship, discretion is the better part of valour. I also knew enough not to ask if she had room for a deck of cards in her luggage, or even her carry-on bag.)
I had brought the cards with the vague thought in mind that I might need them to carry me through 30 days living in another language. Solitaire is a great diversion when Tagalog is all around you. I also thought, wrongly, that maybe Carmen and I could entertain ourselves with a little black jack or even strip poker. But she didn’t need those little diversionary devices. She after all, had her family around her and they all spoke Tagalog too.
One evening, out of desperation (there’s only so much time you can spend proofreading manuscripts and reading on-line diarios[ii] (journals)), I asked Carmen’s 12-year-old apo, Charles, if he wanted to play cards. ‘What’s that Lolo?’ He replied.
Momentarily surprised, I said, ‘Here, let me show you.’
So I pulled out one deck of cards from the box and showed him. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I know what your mean. But I never played cards.’
And he went back to whatever he was doing on his android phone.
Not getting the response I hoped for I sat down at the kitchen table and dealt myself a hand of Klondike, checking first to make sure there were actually 52 cards in the deck.[iii]
After a while Charles put away his device and sat with me at the table to watch. Maybe he was mindful of my advice to him: we men had to stick together in a household full of women.
‘You know how to pay solitaire, Charles?’ ‘No Lolo.’
‘Here, you watch.’
I dealt another hand and then played it out showing him to put red on black and black on red cards in descending order.
‘There’s a ‘double solitaire’ version,’ I told him, noting the oxymoron of that to myself.
So I dealt out four cards face up on the table and divided the rest of the pack of cards between us and began, red on black, black on red, sending ‘gifts’ to your opponent when the opportunity presented, and continue until one of you was out of cards. He got the hang of it but it takes a while to be fully alert to all the openings.
After a while he grew tired of the game, or bored, so I suggested, ‘how ‘bout Crazy Eights?”
‘What’s that Lolo?’
So I dealt seven cards to him and me, alternately, put the remainder of the deck facedown on the table and turned up the top card, and proceeded to match suits and cards from our hands onto the discard pile until one of us was out of cards, using the eights as wild cards to change suits. Then I added a few nuances to the rules: 2 take two, jack miss a turn.
Next evening we sat at the table to play again. This time we also had the attention of his older sister, Andrea. Let the games begin. It got more and more interesting – competing and winning are high stimulants. Beating Lolo was a bonus.
‘Can you teach us how to play poker, Lolo?’
‘Sure Andrea, if you want.’ I figured at 15 she soon needed to acquire a few extracurricular skills to be admitted to an adult world.
So I taught them poker: five card draw, seven card draw. We got out a jar of Carmen’s coins and made bets (because betting is half the point of poker).
Next it was Black Jack.
And I tried to teach Charles Cribbage but he’s not quite ready for that one.
A few nights later, cousin Jasmin showed interest. She learned quickly (she’s a natural card shark), and ruthless.
I also tried teaching the three of them Euchre; but they’re not quite ready for that one. Maybe when I go back to Philippines in 8 or 10 months.
And so it continued, night after night. We’d all watch Wheel of Fortune and then Jeopardy (recorded and played back the next night on YouTube) and then settle in for a few rounds of Crazy Eights, till I got tired of losing and went to bed while the kids laid out the day’s leftovers for their 9 o’clock spread before bed. They’d go back to their devices but I said they shouldn’t be on them after 10 to allow themselves some blue-light relief before bed.
But truth be told they were already pretty tired from thinking and strategizing through a couple of hours’ playing cards.
More importantly, they had a whale of a time, laughing and interacting, never once checking their devices.
When I left them all to return to Canada October 9 they were very sad to see me go. But they (Andrea, Jasmine and Charles) have continued to play cards at the kitchen table every night.
Eight year-old Louise has inserted himself into the game now; and six year-old Reine wants to play too, though Crazy Eights is a little beyond her. So I coached Charles via Messenger how to play ‘Fish’ with Reine.
And when I go back to The Philippines I’ll bring a cribbage board.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata, Canada
© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing
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[i] Hans Niemann case.
[ii] Diarios may be Tagalog but like about 40% of the language, many words have Spanish roots. Do you see diaries in that word diarios?
[iii] You recognize that song? ‘Playing solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one.’ (‘Flowers on the Wall, The Statler Brothers)