I don't think my parents intended to raise a family of card sharks; it was just a cheap way to entertain six children. We would gather around the dining room table for hours-long games of hearts, spades and poker; dealer's choice, of course. We learned five card draw, blackjack and seven card stud, along with seemingly endless variations. One of my mother's favorites that quickly became mine was a seven card stud labeled "Deuces, jacks, man with the axe; a pair of natural sevens takes all". We were allotted 100 pennies each for bidding and quickly learned the benefits of maintaining a poker face, since we got to keep our take. I may have overplayed that; siblings mention a tendency I had to allow a tear to slip down my cheek when I had an especially good hand.
Later, as players graduated and went off to college, we focused more on euchre and pinochle. Family lore is that I became such a good euchre player that when I went to OU for little sibs weekend, I beat all the college kids. Allegedly this was a point of pride for my mother, who never actually said it to my face. You wouldn't want to give a kid a big head.
My oldest sister started at Ohio University in the fall of '69, the same year I started kindergarten. The next in line joined her in the fall of '71. The fact that I played competitively with them and their friends may have had more to do with the oddly shaped "vases" being passed around than with my card skills, but I couldn't say for sure.
I do remember quite vividly sitting in for various Knights of Columbus at church functions when the beer hit their bladders mid-hand. I always hovered around the card tables and occasionally someone would wave me over, "Here take my cards while I go to the john. Don't lose the game for me, now!". There would be much joking when the Knight returned. "Let her play for you; we did better when you were gone!" I loved the attention. I was the only kid at the table and again, I don't know that it was my skill so much as my relative sobriety that carried the hands, but whatever; it was fun.
Last week, my Dad, my "glass-nearly full and I'm not thirsty - here you have it" Dad, and I talked about his upcoming cancer treatment. He had half a lung removed just six weeks ago and starts chemo next week. It will be followed by radiation treatment. We talked about the home health care aides that have been helping out and my mom's reaction to them. ("They all have tattoos, Meg! Every one of them!" )We talked about the sale of my parents' home. We talked about their ultimate move to assisted living. We talked about his need for new hearing aids, about the Indians, about my girls and their busy lives.
We did not talk about the biopsy being done just then on my mother's enlarged, hardened lymph nodes; about the fact that they might indicate the return of the stomach cancer we thought had been cured or even worse, lymphoma..
And then my dad said he was sorry. He apologized for "bleeding all over me". I told him I was grateful that I could be a sounding board for him, that I was available and willing to listen. That it was only fair: after all, he had to listen to me complain about various boyfriends and other miseries for many, many years.
But he was finished talking, at least for that day. I knew it when he shook his head a bit, patted my knee and said, "We have to play the cards we're dealt, Margaret, we have to play the cards we're dealt."