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David Treadwell: Bonding through games

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I recently called a local department store to see if they sold card tables. When a young woman got on the phone, I asked, “Do you have card tables?” to which she responded, “What are card tables?” to which I sagely replied, “Tables you play cards on.”

“Oh,” she said, “you mean tables where the legs come down?” I allowed as how that was the case. “We do,” she said, triumphantly. And they did.

That exchange got me to thinking about my own game-filled life.

As a boy, I’d get up early and play monopoly with my dad, an inveterate game player. He earned entry into the National Bridge Hall of Fame because of his bridge-playing prowess and relieved many casinos of their money because of his card-counting ability at the blackjack table. He and I played games throughout the rest of his 97-year-old life: casino and backgammon, mostly, but sometimes cribbage. When he wanted to play he’d ask “Do you want a lesson?” And if he won, he’d say, “There’s something about this game you don’t understand.” If he lost, I’d talk the same trash right back.

Our whole family played games: Twenty questions sometimes. Or Oh Hell, although my mother softened the name to Oh, Shucks. One time we were playing Oh, Shucks with my grandparents, and my brother came out with an “Oh, S—!,” much to the horror of my grandmother and the delight of me and my older sister. My dad taught us kids the basics of bridge when we got older.

My parents always had long running Scrabble games going on, as my mother preferred word games to number games. Tina and I have enjoyed many good Scrabble games over the years, especially after we learned some of those weird two-letter words, such as ut, ka, za, jo, je, fe, ai, aa, ee, oo oi, qi and li, etc. Musical notes and Greek letters also come in handy.

When my mother was in her 80s, we would send Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles back and forth through the mail to compare how we did.

When my dad was in his 80s and 90s, my son Jon would often drive from his home in Philadelphia to Wilmington, Delaware to play backgammon. Jon developed into a fine player so he often got to use the “There’s something about this game you don’t understand” taunt. By the way, my dad’s “memorial celebration” in the Wilmington Country Club drew scores of bridge players from all along the eastern seaboard. It consisted of a lunch, in which he was roasted, followed by a duplicate bridge game. He would have approved.

About 25 years ago, my dad taught Craights to my siblings and me. We enjoyed many fine games, trading playful jabs all along. When he died in 2009, my sister assumed the title of the Queen of Craights. She even started a regular Craights group with some of her friends in Venice, Florida. I sometimes call her to get reminded of the scoring rules.

Tina and I work on the New York Times crossword puzzle every day. I do the bottom half first, and then she does the top half. We have no compunction, incidentally, about looking up the name of some rap star, say, or a situation comedy, since we are both hopeless when it comes to pop culture. (In our defense, we do know what a card table is, unlike some members of younger generations.)

We also play the Spelling Bee in the Sunday New York Times every week. We can each get “excellent,” usually, but we do need to combine our word findings to attain the “genius” level.

Every morning I get up early to try my hand at Wordle and Quordle and Octordle. Then I post my three scores to a shared message with my sons David and Jon. Jon and I post first, and then David, who lives in Seattle, chimes in later. We’re evenly matched and mutually supportive, although an occasional, “Try that on, fellas” might slip in.

I always have five or six games of Words with Friends going on with a Bowdoin classmate. He and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, so playing Words with Friends helps us bond while trying to keep our spirits calm and our brains sharp.

Maybe that’s what our polarized nation needs: more game playing with people of all ages and all political persuasions — and less television watching. And just think, we may not even need to use a card table.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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