Thanks for Teaching Me to Gamble, Grandma

Teaching Declan CardsI’ve been playing cards for a very long time. My Irish grandmother taught me when I was about five, and I’m sitting down teaching Declan now that he’s reached the golden age himself. He’s not ready for poker–he doesn’t have a poker face, just one smeared with honey he stole from the kitchen. He  has a propensity for laying down all the cards so he can see them all at once which makes him easy to hustle.

I miss cards. My husband doesn’t play. Cards took me all the way through high school into college–in high school, where I had one, sometimes two, study halls, I spent four years with at least one period a day playing cards. That’s approximately 540 hours, or 67.5 eight-hour days of cards. Kids can’t do that anymore. They get stuffed in test prep class instead. They’re missing out.

I played Euchre and Spades throughout college when I wasn’t working, but when I was working, it was straight to the poker table with the guys after a long shift.

I wanted to poker with the guys–just to be included, not to crusade for equal rights. The guys didn’t think girls should play poker. I wasn’t sure why, because it wasn’t like they were using their male distinction to count or hold cards, but they really felt uncomfortable with the idea. Like I was invading male space. Since I hung with them, worked with them, got them sodas when they were dripping behind the line, they eventually forgave the fact that I was a girl–for the most part–and let me play.

Being a girl was an advantage. We played dollar ante. That was a significant bet. The pot grew quickly.

“Do you know how to play, honey?” one asked the first night I was included.

“I think so.” I replied.

“Okay, so what’s natural low… the worst hand you can get?”  Oh, this was going to be fun.

I answered.

“Very good. You sure you want to play? We don’t give the money back, you know.”

“I’ll try my best.” I’d brought twenty or thirty bucks. The amount I’d spend at a movie or out. It was enough.

Now, there are rules for this–etiquette. You can’t just clean up the table and leave. You have to say when you’re leaving, so people have plenty of time to get their money back. Even from a girl.

“I’m out at one.” I said. Before long, I had all the money. I enjoyed looking at the pile–it was pretty cool. The kid across the table was fidgeting, sweating just a little at first, then trying to contain his fear before long. I was playing with some pocket change. Sure, I could have sent it to the University bursar, but twenty bucks wasn’t going to pay down my $100K debt. My opponent was playing with his rent money. And he lost it. To a girl. Suddenly, I felt sad, the fun diminished just a bit. I decided to give the money back. I couldn’t just say “here you go,” and leave–no self-respecting poker-playing guy wants to be saved by a girl. It’s worse than when girls give guys advice in the weight room. I had to strategically return it by throwing a hand or two without looking obvious. I lost the money. He won it back. I smiled.

“Looks like you win,” I said. I had fun. I walked away.

After college, I progressed to the football pool to fit in at the office. Sixteen games wasn’t too much to memorize, and I knew my stats. I won quite a bit, putting a timing belt in my car, and paying for groceries. Predictably, I was removed. It seems girls don’t win football pools just like they don’t play poker. Maybe someday we’ll get equal rights.

I’ve moved away from football these days, and nobody wants to play cards. And I’m old now, so I don’t have to do things to fit in–I just want to be left alone to grow vegetables and figure out the meaning of life.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t properly train the next generation. I wiped Declan out at three games of Go-Fish and a couple rounds of War before throwing just one hand to keep his mind in the game.

“I WON!” he shouted with glee, piling up his cards.

“Yes,” I said, “Indeed you did.”

Thanks, Grandma.

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