Learning the Game of Lifetimes

May 26, 2017
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My great grandfather, aged 86, calls me over to a large wooden table. It's summer, and we are hosting a family reunion at my grandparents house. They live on a lake in Wisconsin, and it's beautiful out in early july. The grass is green and the trees are a beautiful shade of green. Kids are running on the lawn, jumping in the lake, and I am sitting on the deck petting our dog. He tells me that we are going to play his favorite game, 500 Rummy. A game that I had no idea how to play at the time. He tells me that he is there to teach and that I can learn if I’d like. I nod, and after a few practice rounds, the game begins.


I never really interacted with my family to the same extent as my friends seemed to. I always saw myself as a part of the newer generation, someone who understands technology. Originally shying away from my grandparents, and extended family, I disliked having conversations with them. Amidst all of my family, I found a way to talk to them through my great grandfather. By inviting me to play cards with him, and a few other family members, not only did I get to know them better by learning a game from their generation, but I also learned a life skill in interaction.


The rules are simple, my great grandfather says. Play as many rounds as it takes to get a total of 500 points on the table. Cards must be laid down in sets of 3. In runs or pairs of 3. Cards 7 and below are worth 5 points each, 10 and up are worth 10 points each, and aces worth 15. The goal is to run out of cards and have the most points down. If you get caught with cards, those cards are worth their amount, but subtracted from your points.


My great grandfather begins dealing out cards, 1, 2, 3, all the way to 13 for each person around the table. He then picks up the cards, and begins by drawing a card and laying down a set of 3 7’s. Of course all the while he is doing this, he talks to those around the table, reminiscing about the past, family members who passed away, and how everyones’ family is. As he lays down the cards, I begin to pick up a few things. However, what I picked up could've just been all of the cards I couldn't use.


Everyone around the table is talking, laughing, and enjoying the game. I slowly began to comprehend that playing cards isn't just about finding enjoyment in the game itself. I believe that we, my family, myself, and my great grandfather, could have been playing any game that day and everyone would be having just as much fun as we were then. What made the game fun was that everyone was enjoying the conversation. Teasing, praising, and of course, talking trash in cards is what made it fun for them. What made it fun for me was learning about parts of distant relatives lives that I would normally have no interest or reason to ask about.


Throughout all of this game, I realized something. It wasn’t that I should be outside making friends, enjoying the beautiful day, or learning cards. What I realized is that by playing a game that another group of people appreciate, I was able to connect with my family better. I am grateful to have spent as much time as I did with my great grandfather before he passed away last summer. He taught me so many different things, but the most important to me was the game of cards and how to reach out to my family.

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