Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Canasta Queen

I was raised sitting around a table playing canasta with my parents, siblings, and grandparents. Sometimes my Aunt Dot, Uncle Jack, and my cousins would join us or we would all go to their home. I learned to play with two people or as many as eight people in a game. It was family fun with everyone trying to choose the best playing partner, and the kids all being buddied up with grown ups to learn from their experience.

We usually had a big southern style supper of chicken or catfish if my dad, granddad, and uncle had gone fishing that day. My mom, grandmother, and aunt made jell-o salads, fruit, vegetables; dessert was homemade cakes, pies, cookies, ice cream or all of the above. When the kids got bored or tired out, we slowly dropped out of the card game and retreated to other rooms to play with our toys and games.

Mom and dad began playing aggravation with Uncle Leonard and Aunt Faye on their trips to Missouri. Then it became the game of choice. Mary played every week with our parents and it was a battle of wills between dad and Mary who could out-throw the other with dice and knock the other one back to the starting point. My dad played until several months before his death when he was confined to a hospital bed at home. We put the game away after my dad passed away because my mom found no pleasure in playing without my dad.

When my mom celebrated her ninetieth birthday five months after my dad died, I flew to California to help her celebrate. Everyone had gone home one night and we were sitting in the living room reminiscing about when I grew up and things my children learned from me that I had learned from my parents. Somehow we started talking about the canasta games we used to play and how Kelly is the only one of my kids that knows how to play.

Mom said she wasn’t sure she remembered how to play since it had been so long ago since she had played a game. Mom found two decks of cards and we decided to give it a try. We made mistakes then would realize our errors and go on to the next game and the next, and the next. About 3:00 AM we gave it up and went to bed. That night the “Canasta Queen” was revealed (mom).

My sister Mary dropped in later the next day, amazed that we had played cards most of the night. Mary was even more amazed to find out we stayed up half the night, again, playing cards. Well, the third night Mary joined us. Mom and I found out we still had a few of the rules wrong but we were having fun. The rest of the trip was spent around the table watching my mom begin to smile again. The long lonely days of grieving were slowly passing. Mom will always miss my dad but the healing process had begun. I flew home a few days later, but Mary still continues to play canasta with my mom every week.

Mary warmed me this trip that I would have to keep an eye on mom because she can go out and win the game before you even have a chance to get started. It is a pleasant way to spend the evening playing cards and laughing, spending time with my mom and sister. Mary keeps a score book and at the top of each page for a new game, she records the date, the weather, and anything special for that day.

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