THE NIGHT BEGINS
To understand this story, first you must know that game time in Bailey [my maiden name] Land usually includes a sizable number of participants. Options include games such as Yahtzee, Tripoli, and any variety of dominos – Spinner, Mexican Train, basic, you name it – except for Monopoly of course, because it was banned several years ago when emotions ran too high threatening to cause a family fracture beyond repair.
This, however, was not the usual Coliseum-mentality type of evening. I was visiting for Mother’s Day and was enjoying a quiet night alone with with my parents. No small feat when you’re a grown up. Even though my 75+ year old Papa had offered to take me to the library to check out a “chick flick” – yes he used those words – I opted for dominoes – Spinner dominoes – to be exact.
I think the Monopoly issue actually was a remnant of unsettled disputes when my sisters and I played CandyLand as girls but that’s a separate topic for another time. Sidetracked. Sorry.
During the last family game night, Mexican Train dominoes were the evening fare. I had finally become a semi-impressive contender when I no longer had everyone yelling at me to “put your penny up.” In case you’re not familiar with the game, you place a little plastic train engine atop your domino strand – a signal to let others know that they can play on your strand because you cannot.
There never seems to be enough of those little plastic train engines so when more than 4 of us are playing, some have to use pennies instead of trains to indicate the aforementioned situation. So I get distracted a lot. I teach 6th through 8th graders. Have a little mercy.
THE REIGNING VICTOR
My mom is considered the family game master. Kids who play virtual games have nothing on her. And don’t let the fact that she graduated from a Southern Baptist college for women fool you. She just wins and then beams her beautiful smile your way to gingerly disarm your delirium. You might get so caught up in smiling back that you lose the game in the process, but that’s just they way it works sometimes.
Then there’s my dad. I’m not sure he’s truly a game fan but I know that being with his family is top of his priority list so he’s usually in the mix – if for nothing more than to help me remember when to take my turn.
Fortunately, Spinner dominos starts with double 9s and works its way down to double blanks. For non-domino-types, this basically means that one round is played using a domino with matching numbers of each side of the line. Each subsequent round uses descending doubles until you reach the double blank domino, which signals the final to-do.
The significance? Regular dominos go up to double 12s and let’s just say that when playing with those, it can add up to a long and painful experience with the game master, but like I said, at least she smiles!
WHEN DO I GO?
For some reason, I was so caught up in banter between turns that dad had to keep reminding me to wait for my turn – AFTER mom. Personally, I didn’t see anything wrong with going before AND after mom. After all, I’ve already provided a foreshadowing of the outcome. And let’s just say mom is still smiling.
The game looked hopeful several times as mom, dad and I had all uttered the “one domino” warning, which basically puts others on high alert that you’re within a turn of claiming victory – possibly shifting the odds for others who don’t smile so much when they play family games. Yet time after time – round after round – it was mom or dad who smacked their last domino onto the table ending the game as I was left to manually add the number of dots on my remaining tiles. Let’s just say that a word person like me takes a little time during this part of the game.
I could have lied about the points I had. I knew to win meant having the fewest points and not the most. But I maintained my integrity, told the truth and gritted my teeth, the ones that wore braces from 4th grade to 9th grade. There I go again.
You could say that my inability to remember when to take my turn cost me a few rounds because that meant I had revealed the next domino I intended to play. This is a remarkably bad idea when the game master is sitting across from you. You might as well reveal all your dominos and say, “please block me so I can’t go.”
HOPE ON THE HORIZON
On round 10 – the last one – the one with the double blanks, I had triumphed by going out BEFORE mom OR dad. I simmered in ecstasy thinking – maybe the whole game point spread would be closer than I think.
And then the final numbers came in. While not verified by an independent accounting firm such as U Cheatum and How, the results reflected my greatest fears. Trounced severely AGAIN – first by mom (smiling) and then by dad (whose pained look resembled empathy). Yes, I can count. I came in third. That’s not first. I wasn’t happy.
THE PAIN GROWS DEEPER
The next day, Mother’s Day lunch was at my sister’s house where eight family members enjoyed not only a wonderful meal but actually hearing each other talk instead of wallowing in a restaurant crowd to wait for a table. To make conversation, my sister innocently asked what mom, dad and I had done the night before.
Honestly, I was hoping to avoid the topic but given the opportunity I recounted the misery blow by painful blow, the smiling, the empathizing and what the numbers revealed. I was a loser. After what I gather was a rather extensive whining episode on my behalf, I felt the whole issue was closed. No domino championships in my future. No claim to gameboard mastery. Just memories – and bad ones at that.
The conversation crept on to other items – that this year’s extended family vacation would be deferred to summer, 2012 and discussions of when I might be able to have my only niece visit before making a u-turn back to gaming.
ONE MONTH LATER
Now fast forward to June. My parents were visiting me to attend my youngest son’s graduation from high school. Prior to the main event, out came the box of checkers and I challenged my 12-year-old nephew. Victory was practically guaranteed and I took advantage of the opportunity. While we played, my dad also sat at the table taking it all in. After my nephew became bored I offered to beat dad and he accepted the challenge. I held my own but still lost and just as I was preparing to put away the pieces, dad asked if I knew how to play, “Give Away.”
“Why, no,” I replied. “I don’t.”
“Let me show you,” he said with an eerily similar smile to that of my mother.
In this version, you move to “give away” your pieces, forcing your opponent to jump you. The first player to get rid of their pieces wins. It’s basically Checkers played in the opposite manner.
The first game was a “practice” one. I like those a lot!
The following two tries created more misery for my already crushed confidence.
Finally, it was time to put up the game. A grin grew on my dad’s face and I realized now what the rest of my entire family already knew. I was a DOUBLE loser.
Aside from the consistency I provide for gaming challengers, I still remain ready to shatter any stereotypes of not being a worthy opponent. I cared not that I’d be trounced by my ‘rents two months in a row!
Hey. Anybody up for a game of Twister?