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It’s no coincidence that the Super Bowl is played during the depths of midwinter. After enduring approximately 27 consecutive months of snow and cold, we’re eager for any distraction that will keep us from getting into shouting matches with our housemates over such life-or-death issues as how to load the dishwasher the “right” way.
Most of us don’t personally know anyone who’s playing in the Big Game. Even so, many of us will cheer for one team or the other in a manner that would indicate that those who backed the losing side will be marched out into the public square and given atomic wedgies.
In truth, our rabid, over-the-top cheering is a consequence of a long, cold winter. We all need diversions to get us through a season where the world is a sea of frozen desolation and your idea of a thrilling new experience is trying out a new snow shovel.
I didn’t grow up during the era depicted in the “Little House on the Prairie” books, but I did grow up in a little house on the prairie. I can empathize with the Ingalls family’s struggles to withstand our endless winters and how they secretly hoped that Pa’s fiddle would break because he kept on playing the only tune he knew over and over. A person can only rebraid her hair with gritted teeth so many times before she begins to fantasize about a certain musical instrument being “accidentally” chopped up for kindling.
Many of the indoor wintertime games we played when I was a kid involved cards. Dad taught my siblings and me how to play poker and blackjack, games that he’d picked up during his time in the Navy. As Dad dealt, he told us that shortly after he returned home from the war, he began to teach his younger siblings how to play the wonderful new diversions he had learned. Upon seeing this, Grandma Nelson scooped up the cards, tossed them into the cookstove and declared, “We don’t gamble in this house!”
What Dad taught us wasn’t exactly gambling either. We would wager with matchsticks or toothpicks in lieu of money. If you went broke, you could simply go out to the woodpile and whittle some new currency.
Our family’s deck of playing cards opened the door for my siblings and me to such electrifying new games as Crazy Eights, Hearts, and Superannuated Spinster. Our deck of cards became worn and it got so that you could identify particular cards by a curled corner or a scratch. Knowing these things wasn’t exactly cheating, although my win rate plummeted dramatically after we acquired a new deck.
Not only did playing cards hone our math skills, it also taught us the value of a good poker face. For example, one of my little sisters would pick up her cards and would either coo “Oh, boy!” or frown deeply. The other players would adjust their bids accordingly. That little sister then summarily cleaned us all out after she gave a very convincing false “tell.” She was only 7, yet she had already learned how to pull off a long con.
We would sometimes play Rummy Royal, a game that was so complicated that it involved the use of a printed plastic sheet that covered the tabletop. I don’t recall much about the game except that one player was selected to be the banker. This sometimes led to bitter accusations of embezzlement. I responded to these ridiculous allegations by pointing out that all deposits were insured by the FDIC.
No game day would be complete without an assortment of goodies to munch upon. Like many farm families, we had a cookbook of recipes from our local church ladies. I don’t remember its title, but it was probably something like Lutheran Ladies’ Great Grub.
Some of the recipes were cherished family heirlooms that came with such notes as, “This was handed down to me from my great-aunt’s second cousin’s neighbor.” Others said simply, “Copied from the Betty Crocker cookbook” or “recipe from the back of the box of cake mix.”
One Sunday, my sister Di decided to make a substance called divinity. The exact recipe escapes me, but I recall that it included roughly 50 pounds of sugar. As if that weren’t sweet enough, the recipe also called for several gallons of corn syrup.
The stuff was sugary and fluffy and, well, divine. It was the perfect companion to a pot of steaming coffee and a heated game of Go Fish.
After the games were over, all of those “In your face, I have an ace!” outbursts were forgiven, and our poker chips were used for kindling.
Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at workman.com/products/dear-county-agent-guy.