All My Ancestors

25 January 2008


I’m late this week doing Miriam’s “assignment.” I think I spent too much time worrying about the prompt from last week–about diversity. From reading her blog, it looks like I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t particularly comfortable writing about my family’s views on social diversity and civil rights. It’s not a pretty picture and I like to think I’ve moved past those opinions.

So I am writing about games because we played lots of them.

*Did you have a regular game night or family night?

No. Our family of 5 didn’t play games all that much, but when we got together with other family members, we always played cards (with grandparents) or dominoes or Monopoly (with cousins).

*What games (board, card, dice, or acting out) did your family enjoy? Was there a favorite you played time after time?

I wish I had a dime for every game of Pitch, Gin, and Spades I’ve played. We had such fun–my husband had never played cards and when he got acquainted with my grandparents, he learned to play. My grandmother thought he was unnaturally lucky and would throw salt at him or back around his chair to make him think she could break his luck. The rest of us were usually collapsed on the table with laughter and my husband was just amazed that my grandmother could be that crazy.

We also played Yahtzee a lot, Aggravation (marbles), Sorry, and also dominoes. I remember learning to play Clue and playing it obsessively one South Dakota summer with my friend Lois. We’ve also played our share of Trivial Pursuit. This past Thanksgiving, we played a game called Apples to Apples which was great fun–I gave it to a couple of people for Christmas.

*Did your family have a family or game room? What was it like? What kind of game equipment did it have (foosball, pool table, etc.)?

No game room. We just set up the card tables in the living room or den–my brother has made an Aggravation board, and he’s also made this cool 8 sided, felt covered topper for a card table for cards or dominoes.

*Do you have any funny stories or a particular memory (good or bad) that stands out of game-playing time?

See the story about my grandmother and my husband above.

*Were there any games you disliked? Why?

To this day, I don’t like to play Monopoly because of bad memories. The great aunt and uncle we lived near by had one daughter and 8 grandkids. Those grandkids knew how to rumble, and when they came to visit, I inevitably got roped into playing Monopoly with the boys (there were only 2 girls in the bunch) and my brothers. I was sure they were cheating–which, translated, probably meant I was losing. Later, my husband and sons played Monopoly–I wouldn’t play–and the same level of emotion often “erupted” from that game. So I avoid it. Let’s face it–I work for non-profits.

*Were there any games that were not allowed to be played? Why?

The only thing I can remember is that my grandmother went through phases of thinking it wasn’t “ok” to play cards. It sort of depended on what preacher she’d heard recently. As she got older, and also as we begged her, she would play with gusto.

My husband had never played cards nor had he played any game with dice. He said his mother would make a spinner for any game that required the throw of dice to move ahead. He soon mastered both cards and dice. Don’t tell his mom.

*Did your parents have a regular night when they would play games or cards with friends or extended family?

No, though I do have a very early memory of going to some people’s house who were high-school friends of my parents. They played cards, but I only remember that happening once.

*Did you ever have game nights with groups, clubs, or neighbors on a regular basis?


*Was game playing associated with certain annual events, like holidays, birthdays, or vacation times?

Our game playing tends to be centered around the holidays when we were all together. The past few years, it is Thanksgiving.

*What kinds of snacks and beverages were enjoyed during game playing?

The times we played with grandparents, we often had popcorn. (See my story about popping corn with my grandfather and friend here.) My granddad was also particularly fond of ice cream, to “cool your belly.” My sisters-in-law usually have some yummy snacks–almonds, M&Ms, and those butter-soaked crackers with chocolate chips melted on top and sprinkled with nuts.

*Were there prizes awarded to game winners or even to losers? What kinds? Did everyone chip in towards purchasing the prizes?

No prizes. Just bragging rights.

*Did your family or you ever do jigsaw puzzles? What’s the largest–in terms of number of puzzle pieces–jigsaw puzzle you’ve completed?

We don’t do this so much any more but we used to. I remember having one one year that was too big to fit on the card-table. One of the doctor’s office I go to often has a jig-saw puzzle out on a table–I often find myself working on it and thinking about the times we used to do them as a family.

*What did you do with completed puzzles? Did you display them or simply put them away?

They went back in the box and probably then to the thrift shop.

*What about puzzles such as crosswords, cryptograms, or others found in puzzle books? Are you a Sudoku fiend?

My mom and I used to race to see who could get to the crossword puzzle in the newspaper first. And it was a standing joke in our family that Dad knew the most esoteric things. When I asked my own husband some question about a long-ago political party, and he knew the answer was “Locofoco,” I knew the torch had been passed.

One of my brothers likes crosswords and the other likes cryptograms. One of my sons does Sudoku–I’ve avoided them as I’m afraid of getting another obsession.

*Did you ever go to an arcade and play pinball machines or other arcade-style games? Or did you ever shoot pool?

There were pinball machines at the bowling alley in the little town where I grew up, and the bowling alley was one of the approved places to go. I liked playing pinball. I don’t remember playing pool until I went to college, and then it was at the home of the dean of the fairly conservative college I attended. fun!

*Do you remember seeing your first video game, either in an arcade or on a television (Pong, Atari or early Nintendo games)?

I remember playing Pong on an early Apple personal computer. We had one in the department where I taught–it was out for anyone to play so we could “get over” any anxiety we had about computers. What a good idea. :-)

*What kinds of video games did you like to play, if any? Do you play any now (gaming station or handheld)?

I quit playing video games a long time ago–I used to play Mario Brothers–on my computer. Those games have long out-stripped my abilities. This past Christmas holiday, I was laying in bed, listening to my now adult sons out in the living room playing Wii–they were having a good time and I was having a good time listening to them.

*What was your first computer game? Do you ever play computer games now, either on your computer or online?

I think my first computer game was probably Pong. I do occasionally play Bejeweled, Text-Twist, Freecell, Solitaire, and Zuma–mostly games my son installed on my computer and got me hooked on. I don’t play online. Too chicken.

*What about the present? Does your family or do you personally play games or do puzzles? Do you participate in game nights with others, such as poker or Bunco?

We tend to play games only at holidays when we’re all together. My oldest son and I occasionally do crosswords–

*Here are some other game ideas to write about: lawn games (horseshoes, croquet, badminton); kid games (marbles, jacks); betting, casino games, and bingo; party games (pinata, pin the tail on the donkey), etc.

I loved playing jacks as a kid. I can still smell the heat coming off the building and sidewalk where we sat in second grade playing game after game of jacks at recess. I was pretty good–I think I had fairly good hand-eye coordination. I can remember playing horseshoes occasionally in South Dakota–I could never get the hang of it. I did master shuffleboard–the best minister at our little church when I was a teen put a shuffleboard game and a ping-pong table in the church basement. I wonder how I kept from letting loose with the swear words then?

*What do you know about your parents’, grandparents’, or perhaps even great-grandparents’ game playing? Do you remember them saying anything about games they played when they were young?

My maternal grandparents played cards. And they also talked about playing baseball and basketball at their country school. My grandmother was supposedly pretty good–or maybe it was just my granddad’s romantic memories. He always talked about how good she was. Somehow I don’t think my paternal grandparents would have played games–but I just don’t know.

*Do you have any photos of either your present or your childhood families playing games? What about ancestral photos?

I have lots of pics of us playing cards and various other games. Here’s one from last Thanksgiving–Aggravation on the homemade board. Sadly, no ancestral photos.


1 Comment »

One Response to “Games”

  1. I forgot about Clue and Aggravation as I was writing my post. I loved Clue because of the “mystery” aspect. I was probably in college when my family really got into playing Aggravation in a big way.

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