October 16, 2008
By Kathleen Burns, Barrintgon, IL

I looked down at the arrangement of squared letters that rested on the red, plastic shelf in front of me. I frowned, of course, as I discovered the lack of vowels that I had in my possession. A J, a K, a Y, a W, a P, an F, and a U were lined up next to each other, knowing that they were all misfits among themselves. I looked up to see my Grandma laying down another brilliant word on the Scrabble board. This time, she had arranged her letters, which included the highly ranked Z, to form the word “zebras.” Perplexed at how this woman was able to build these words after randomly picking these wooden square pieces out of a metallic bag, I turned my shelf towards her and asked, “Can you help me Grandma?”

She smiled and did her little shrug that she always does and started working her magic as I tried to look like I was thinking of words to form, when really I was just watching her. As her eyes were going back and forth from the board to the little wooden squares, I observed the wrinkles that surrounded them. How many years had she gone through to get these? After hearing many stories and looking through many photos, I was aware of the many historical events that my grandmother had lived through. These were probably to blame for the wrinkles I was observing. Raising a son and six daughters was probably not much help either.

“Here we go!”

My grandma placed the U and the P after a lone C to spell the word “cup.” She also was able to maneuver the J and the K into the system of words to spell the word “joke” and added the Y after the word “luck” to form “lucky.” Now, these may not seem incredibly difficult to spell, but with the mass amount of words already placed on the board, my grandma was able to spot these open spaces to form these words and rack up a few forty-some points for me to add to my score.

After many games of Scrabble with my grandma, I knew that she figured out how to break the system of the game and build up points like no one could believe. By just adding a simple J or P, she would be able to add another thirty points to her score, which would already be at least two hundred above mine.

“How are you so good at this game, Grandma?” I asked her one evening.

“Well, I started when I was your age, and I would do the same thing as you do; I would ask for help almost every time, but with age comes knowledge. I’ve played this game so much that I become wiser and wiser every time I play it, and so will you too!”

My grandma’s stories were always very interesting. They involved her nursing in WWII, or her childhood in Escanaba, Michigan, or her adventure down to St. Francis nursing school in Evanston from her childhood home with no one to accompany her. Whether her stories involved the past, present, or future, I was always sitting up in my seat while she told them, waiting for her point to be told and the advice she had in her head to be given.

After answering my question, my grandma’s response got me thinking. “I’ve played this game so much that I become wiser and wiser every time I play it…” After so many games of Scrabble, my grandma seemed to be the wisest person on the earth. How could so many games of Scrabble do this to a person?

I watched as my grandma placed down a few more wooden squares when her turn was up. She arranged the letters after a stray P to form the word “prudent.” She counted her points and moved the metal peg to the right a few, which made her score about fifty points more than it was previously. After randomly choosing my next letters, I was able to form the work “cake.”

“See!” my grandma said. “You’re getting better!”

I found this funny because compared to her “prudent,” my “cake” was very unimpressive, but then I reassured myself that with many years of practice, as my grandma had said before, Scrabble was something she had mastered.

Growing up during so many events, including a few wars, the Depression, the time of sock hops and the time of disco, while acquiring seven children to raise on the way, I began to think of my grandma’s life. This eighty-five year old woman sitting beside me was on of the most experienced people I would ever meet in my life. I wondered if she was ever like me. I wondered if her first time playing Scrabble, she looked at her wooden squares with complete puzzlement as to how she was supposed to succeed.

“I learned,” she said. “Scrabble is kind of like life. Life throws you curves, but you learn to swerve. There are ups and downs, and usually you start at the bottom, but you make your way up to the top with time and practice.”

I thought about the experiences, the challenges, and the adventures that my grandmother had gone through in her life to get her to the point that she was, and I wished that I would someday get to that point too and be able to help my grandchildren form words out of little wooden pieces. Although I may still be on the “cake” level, I someday hope to reach that “prudent” level, and when I feel as though it will never happen, I remember that practice makes perfect and that with age comes wisdom.

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