“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em….” – Kenny Rogers
Recently, I found out that my presence might be required in Las Vegas at an upcoming work conference. Though there were a litany of reasons I wasn’t keen on the idea, three major ones stuck out:
- I drink so infrequently that I have a slight buzz after eating pasta made with white wine sauce.
- The thought of staying up until the wee hours of the morning at an after-party after a long day of work and making small talk with strangers made me want to crawl in bed and go to sleep. At 8 PM.
- My idea of gambling involves $1 worth of pennies and a slot machine. Maybe $5, if I’m feeling lucky.
Needless to say, I was happy that I had too many pressing deadlines so I wouldn’t need to attend. I actually think it had nothing to do with my workload and more to do with the look on my face when the suggestion was made that I go, the one that silently begged, “Please don’t make me go, please don’t make me go.”
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a very expressive person. I have a hard time not letting my face show what I’m thinking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that I would be an absolutely terrible poker player. Also because I’d be the type of person who would flip the cards around and say, “So what does it mean when I have three aces? Is that a good thing?”
Like I said, I’d be terrible. But if Vegas had card tables where they played Gin Rummy, I actually might stand a chance.
I learned the old card game from my grandfather, who, whenever we we would visit him and my grandmother in the rural mountains of North Carolina, would be waiting by the door with a deck of cards in his hand, asking, “Wanna play?”
My grandparents’ house was perched precariously on the edge of a mountain, with breathtaking views of the Hiwassee River, wildflowers galore, and the occasional visit from a curious bear. My brother and I would spend our days exploring their property, swimming in Fire’s Creek, and after a hearty dinner and homemade cake and at least an hour of card games, we would curl up in our sleeping bags on their screened-in back porch and fall asleep out of happy exhaustion to the lulling sounds of the sleepy river and cicadas. To me, it was one of the happiest places on earth.
I’m sure that teaching an eight-year-old Gin Rummy wasn’t an easy thing to do, but my grandfather did it willingly and patiently. Playing cards was something he loved to do, and he loved sharing the activity with others. He and my grandmother played them every day as their way to spend time together, a way to say, “I love you, and I love spending time with you.” My grandfather wasn’t perfect—far from it—but he was a kind man, a good man, and he loved my grandmother and his family with such a fierceness that he would have killed anything that would have ever tried to hurt them. And believe me, he was good with a gun. The deer head that was mounted above the fireplace was a good reminder.
He also had this way of looking at you when you talked to him that made you feel like you were the most important thing in the world.
If someone asked me to play a round of Gin Rummy today, I’d remember, but I’d probably be a little rusty. But what wouldn’t take a few hands to remember would be the memories I have associated with that game: how a deck of cards makes me think of his laugh and his big bear hugs, how proud both of us would be when I won a hand, how decadent if felt to stay up late, laughing and talking with him and listening to his stories and words of advice that he would share along with way. I’d remember us laughing as he’d catch me showing my cards and how he would pull me into his lap as he’d chide, “Remember to keep your loved ones—and your cards—close to you.”
So as you spend your days with family and friends, ask yourself: What are you doing now that will keep your loved ones close? What games, traditions, events, memories are you passing down to your children or grandchildren? What will they remember about you 15, 20, 30 years from now? Will they remember your laugh? Your stories? Your words of wisdom? Your kindness?
Will they remember you asking, “Wanna play?”
Next week, while my colleagues will be getting ready to go out for a late night of socializing in the adult version of the “happiest place on earth,” I’ll be tucked into bed, smiling and remembering one of my own happiest places, sitting at a kitchen table with my grandfather, patiently waiting and listening as he passed out the cards, and more importantly, lessons of life, love, and everything in between.