People used to drive over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house each holiday season to give thanks, eat, visit, and play games.
Playing games with family members you seldom see outside of Christmas gave you the opportunity to remember why you only see them during the holidays.
A marathon Monopoly game with your half-deaf uncle and your cousin who eats Cheetos and wants to be the banker, is a reminder of how good you’ve got it. Even if you think you don’t have it so great.
I’m not sure where it’s written that after you commit one of the seven deadly sins (gluttony) you should put together a jigsaw puzzle with your great aunt, but it’s obviously mandatory.
Because that was how it went every year.
Maybe it was because we only had three channels to watch on TV. Of course, even if we’d had the endless number of things to watch we have today, our grandfather would never have allowed anything other than football to be shown.
There stood Coach Tom Landry on the sidelines in his crisp, tailored suit and stylish hat. More often than not, he’d calmly lead the Cowboys to victory. Those of us playing a board game would glance over at the game every now and then from the kitchen table.
That’s where we most often played games. The Formica dinette set was perfect for it. The smooth top allowed me to neatly stack my money and property deeds, only to have that Cheeto eating banker cousin drive the token car over my stuff and mess it up.
An argument would ensue, and the uncle would say, “What did you say?”
The little kids were in the floor nearby playing Operation. As the Monopoly players tried to put each other in the poor house, the little kids were practicing removing someone’s spleen and funny bone.
As the years passed, I once suggested that we switch to the game called Risk. World domination was preferable to putting people in the poor house, but I was overruled.
If I could have taken over the world, I would have banned bankers who eat Cheetos.
If you got tired of playing Monopoly, you could recruit a younger cousin to take your spot. There was always one kid who wanted to play with the big kids, but had been denied. He stood next to the Monopoly table, watching the whole time. I usually could excuse myself and whisper to him to take my seat.
Before the others realized I wasn’t coming back, the kid had already taken Boardwalk and Park Place.
“Who let this kid play?” The uncle said.
I’d slide over to the jigsaw puzzle, only to discover that the great aunt had been working on the same puzzle for the previous three Christmases. The box lid with the picture was missing, as were an unidentified number of puzzle pieces.
The word was that the Cheeto-eating banker cousin had gotten their mitts on it. According to unsubstantiated reports, the puzzle could be a picture of a church in a meadow, or a basket full of cats. No one was certain.
As we got older, the more cerebral members of the family decided we would play Scrabble.
“I know a lot of words,” said the half-deaf uncle.
“So do I,” said a different uncle from in front of the television.
I think we were interrupting the game.
“I’m fairly certain that ‘flipple’ is not a word,” someone said.
“Yes it is,” replied a cousin.
“What does it mean?” Was the response.
From there a challenge ensued. But the replacement kid at the Monopoly table was sitting on the dictionary, so we accepted flipple and moved on.
The Scrabble game went downhill from there, so I headed over to watch the game.
Today, people drive hundreds of miles to visit family and then bury their heads in their phones for the week.
Board games have been replaced by online games. Matter of fact, this last Christmas Day, I received a notification from Words With Friends (an online Scrabble-type game) that it was my 12th anniversary of joining the game.
I thought about that.
My anniversary with Words With Friends is longer than my time with the ex. Words With Friends has been a much closer relationship. The game lets me get a word in, gives me points for it, and sometimes even tells me that I won.
That’s not something that happened back in the day of holiday board games with families. Monopoly never seemed to wind up with a winner, the jigsaw puzzle remained in pieces, Scrabble was filled with flipple, and the guy having the operation never made it.
The only winners seemed to be the people who made Cheetos.
John’s new book, Puns for Groan People, and his books, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.