Best Little Things
Mom and I were reminiscing this week. And at the same time we both exclaimed,
In our family, as soon as a baby had the self-control not to eat the cards, she was dealt a hand.
We started with Go Fish and War and Slap Jack and Old Maid. And we didn’t even need a special deck. We just took all the queens out of the pack except for the Queen of Hearts. Instant Old Maid. And then Rummy and Crazy Eights, graduating to Gin, and Setback, and Hearts. And the favorite of us all: Cribbage. I remember being able to stall on doing my homework by asking my mother if she wouldn’t like to play just one game of Cribbage.
And with at least five versions of Solitaire, for those rare times when no one would play with you, a deck of cards was about the cheapest, most versatile entertainment we had. And you didn’t even need a complete deck – that’s what the jokers were for – substitution.
I’ve long felt that if you can find joy in the simple things, you’ll be joyous a lot more often. Big vacations and special events come along so seldom. You can be happy every day if you focus on everyday things.
Playing cards is one of those things. One of the ordinary things that immediately comes to mind when I think of being a kid.
No grand occasion or celebration – the best times of my childhood are filled with little happinesses (mostly free).
– Singing in the car. Forget the radio; we always sang in the car. “Mairzy Doats” and “How Much is That Doggie in the Window” and “Knick Knack Paddy Whack.’ My favorite was “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” I loved the “someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah” part, especially because it bore no relation to the rest of the song. It was like a bonus song within the song.
– Walking to the local park to swim in the spring-fed pond. The whole neighborhood would walk together. We’d take a jug of lemonade and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
– In winter, we had our own private sledding hill. We lived across the street from the National Guard armory. The building had a large ramp to the second floor, so jeeps and equipment could be stored. On a snowy day, we would slide down that ramp on a flattened sheet of cardboard.
– My grandmother. She lived upstairs in a small apartment in our three-family house. Every morning she’d come down so my mother could give her an insulin shot. She’d stride into the kitchen as we were having our toast, serenading us with”Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” I thought her voice was the best part of the morning, though I don’t know now whether she could really even carry a tune.
– Waiting for the ice cream truck on a summer evening. All the kids had the same rule – when the streetlights came on, it was time to go home. But sometimes, the grownups would sit together on one porch or another, and talk late into the evening. And curfew was suspended. Playing hide-and-seek in the dark was a wonderfully scary thrill.
– Short cuts. Instead of walking around the corner and down the block to my best friend’s house, I liked to climb on our garbage cans to get over the fence to the next yard, and then climb over their cans to the next yard. I’d cut through all the back yards. It didn’t save time; but it was forbidden, and that was better than saving time.
– Family jokes. I loved the little inside laughs that only we understand. My father wondering if whatever we were missing might be with my mother’s elusive Frank Sinatra record. Whenever anyone was late, we speculated that they were locked in a bathroom. Using Mel Torme as our standard of disgust. It was like being in my family meant belonging to a very special secret club.
And it still is.
(Bonus: One reason why it still is…. )
To me, no one was – or is – as funny as my mother. During our reminiscing this week, she made me laugh harder than I have in months.
We were discussing fashion and makeup – at ninety-one, she still loves these things. And I said that I liked to watch “The Good Wife” to see what Julianna Margulies is wearing.
And Mom said, “Well, I have my fashion icon too. I watch “Hot in Cleveland” to see what Betty White is wearing!”