Playing Cards With Grandma


One of my favorite memories of my Grandma has to do with a deck of cards. When I was a little girl around eight years old, she taught me how to play Double Solitaire, Rummy, and the best one of all, Canasta. To this day, I play a mean game of Canasta thanks to a very feisty lady who always played as if a national title was on the line. I loved that about her, (and I inherited some of that competitive edge).

While the game was fun, the time we spent laughing and strategizing from the first hand to the last was precious. The last few years of her life made it impossible to hold cards or remember the rules, so it’s actually been a long time since I thought about our many games together. Revisiting these memories is an absolute joy . . .

  • When I was learning to play Rummy, Grandma refused to let me win. I must have lost 50 games before I finally got her and that’s only because my Grandpa decided to teach me the “finer points of the game.” While frustrating to lose so much, I certainly learned persistence pays off.
  • She used the same tactic to teach me Canasta.
  • Grandma loved to save aces and tens. She always said tens were my Aunt Kathy’s cards, but I think she said that to throw me off the scent. I caught on quick.
Grandma would love to play this hand in a game of Canasta!

Grandma would love to play this hand in a game of Canasta!

  • I loved to save low cards, because I knew she’d always toss them.
  • Grandma couldn’t resist picking up the pile, even if there wasn’t anything good in it. I have no idea why!
  • We would get hand cramps from holding so many cards in a game of Canasta.
  • When I was younger, she always kept score. She counted her fingers to help her add and I remember how she had trouble subtracting when it was necessary to borrow. As I got older, she passed on the scorekeeping to me . . . and I know she kept an eye on my math.
  • Grandma always swore under her breath when it looked like she was going to lose. It was hilarious! She never used any profanity around my sister and I except during a game of cards. She always said, “S**t!” when the score went in my favor towards the end of a game.
  • Canasta was a bit like a blood sport. Both of us loved the strategy. Grandma liked to lay her cards down quickly, but she always kept a pair in her hand so she could snatch the pile and create a “natural.” I had a knack for landing wild cards, which I never revealed until the end. I also loved freezing the pile with them. That strategy usually backfired, though, because Grandma always seemed to have a black three!
  • After years of playing, we looked up the rules and realized we had been playing somewhat incorrectly all along. We’d reversed the colors for a canasta (red) and a natural (black), we assigned the wrong opening point totals, and I think there were a couple of other rules we got wrong, too. Either way, I won’t play any other way because our way is my Grandma’s way.
  • We always nibbled on cookies and candy bars while we played. Grandma was never without a can of Coca-Cola.
  • We played with the same two decks for years, until the cards got so beat up they were practically marked. Once card was missing a corner and while another had a folded corner (it was a two of a spades – a wild card!). There was also a card that was literally peeling apart in three layers.
  • My Grandma is the one who taught me how to shuffle cards two different ways.
  • My sister was never one for Rummy or Canasta, but she did join in on three-handed solitaire. The insanity that ensued from playing each other’s aces was incredibly funny. I have countless memories of us laughing hysterically.

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c.b.w. 2012


Things My Grandma Taught Me


Something I’ve learned over the last couple of days is that there is no right way to grieve. I’ll cry, but it doesn’t feel right because I don’t think my Grandma wants me to be sad. I’ve never been very comfortable with talking to people face to face about anything this personal, so that outlet is also off the table. At the same time, I want to heal and I want to celebrate all the wonderful things about my Grandma.

Then, I realized that I should use the only outlet that’s ever worked for me: Writing. Within a day of her passing, I posted a poem and wrote a small note about how I was feeling. That small act brought me immense comfort (as did the comments that followed), so I’ve decided to let my creativity serve as my way to grieve. Words have always been my savior and using them to heal is fitting seeing as my Grandma was also a writer.

Over the next few days, I’m going to let my memory run wild and record little things my Grandma said along with some of the wonderful things she taught me over the years. As her memorial service approaches, I am certain my sorrow will deepen, but so will the joy of loving her.

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I spent many happy summers with my grandparents in Northern Wisconsin. Amid the thick forests and beautiful lakes, I learned how to find contentment in the simplest things, while also opening my eyes to the awe of nature.

Near Boulder Junction, Wisconsin Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

Near Boulder Junction, Wisconsin
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

Both of my grandparents instilled a love of the Northwoods, but Grandma taught me a few specific things I will never forget:

  • Don’t forget to listen to the birds sing.
  • How to pick the best blueberries and blackberries, (my short story Blueberry Hunt was inspired by these memories).
  • “Clumping” for daisies. (When you find wild daisies growing along the side of the road, it’s possible to dig them up and plant them in your yard if you get enough of the roots)
  • Pansies have faces that smile if you know how to look at them.
  • Don’t run on a wet pier.
  • Snapping turtles don’t let go if they bite.
  • Always take your jewelry off when you go swimming. There was a tree by the lake that had a perfect branch for hanging rings. One year, I left a ring on that branch and it stayed there for an entire winter. By the next summer, it was still there!
  • That weird bellowing sound from the shore is a bullfrog.
  • Don’t forget to look at the stars and make a wish.
  • It’s okay to get your hands dirty – dig in the mud, play with toads, and roll in the leaves!
  • Always check for ticks after taking a walk in the woods, (and check the dog, too).
  • Don’t go swimming when there’s lightening.
  • If you’re going to have a house in the woods, don’t cut down all the trees so you can put in a lawn of grass.  Let the trees be your landscaping.
  • It’s really fun if you shout something while jumping off the pier.
  • You can never have too many pictures of sunsets.
Little Gibson Lake, Near Boulder Junction Wisconsin. It's one of my Grandma's favorite places. Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

Little Gibson Lake, Near Boulder Junction Wisconsin. It’s one of my Grandma’s favorite places.
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

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c.b.w. 2012