House of Cards by
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My granddaughter in middle school was stumped by a math homework question involving probability. In order to solve it, she needed to use a deck of cards. Not only were there no cards in the house, but my daughter discovered that her daughter had no idea how to play a game using 52 physical cards. Suits and face cards were alien concepts. Initially, I was in shock. Card games, a staple of childhood going back to my grandparents’ time, have been eclipsed by apps offering much more high-tech entertainment. But upon reflection, why was I surprised?

I grew up in a house of cards. Literally.

Growing up, a simple deck of cards was a source of enormous and endless entertainment. While I always loved Solitaire, most games required interacting with others. War, Go Fish, Gin Rummy, Old Maid, Crazy Eights, Snap (or Slap) – these were games I played with my parents, brothers, and friends. Later, I played them with my children, although for political reasons and the fact that I was an under-thirty, anti-Vietnam-war pacifist and therefore “woke” before that word was coined, I taught my son War with the name of Winner. That actually was a bad idea in the long run, as he could never tolerate losing. But I digress. Playing card games was fun for my kids and also taught them a bit of math, rule-following, and social skills.

Adult card games were a different matter. I grew up in a house of cards. Literally. My parents were avid bridge players. They played socially with other couples as well as in numerous bridge tournaments. As with every interest in his life, my father devoured how-to books and took lessons. He was a serious player, determined to vanquish all opponents, even in games with friends. My mother, on the other hand, possessed what she called “card sense.” She had an intuitive grasp of bridge, but I assume her bidding with my father sometimes fell short of his expectations, turning this game into something closer to war than the game I played with my kids. Thus, I associate bridge with his tirades in which he blamed my mother for every loss and belittled her for what he perceived as her mistakes. When they hosted bridge games at our house, I tried to stay as far away from the action as possible.

I think they were mystified by my refusal to learn this game. Unlike my mother, I have no card sense, and unlike my father, I would much rather socialize than concentrate on counting cards and following confusing rules. My idea of a fun game is charades or Clue or Monopoly (except for the never-ending aspect of the latter).

Interestingly, after my father died, my mother spent a lot of time playing bridge online with people from all over the world. That’s when I learned what a good player she was. If she ended up with a partner in India who was not very good, she would ghost him, quitting in the middle of the game. I told her she was a bad sport, but she explained that, at that stage of her life, she didn’t have time to waste on inferior partners. At least she didn’t belittle them. She simply disappeared.

When my grandkids were young and I played cards with them, we rarely used a generic deck of cards. Instead, each game had its own cards. The War game used pictures of cats. Go Fish had beautiful fish drawings to match. Instead of one deck of cards, they had many beautifully boxed card games. Perhaps this explains my granddaughter’s unfamiliarity with a plain old deck of cards. For me, it’s just another example of finding ways to sell unnecessary products.

After my parents died, I inherited their writing desk. The drawers were filled with decks of playing cards, so I guess now I live in the house of cards. I’m going to give each of my grandkids a set so they can learn that many fun games can be played with one simple deck of cards. And maybe they can also use them to do probability questions on their math homework.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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  1. Laurie, I loved this story and found it a bit bittersweet like so many of our childhood memories.

    In my family it was my mother who was the better Bridge player and looking back now I realize why my parents seldom played together and why she went off weekly to play duplicate Bridge leaving my dad to the solitary pursuits he preferred.

    In fact my father was a self-taught classical pianist, a primitive-like painter and a “constructionist” who made models of famous buildings and structures from found objects. I especially remember his version of the Taj Mahal, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Montauk Lighthouse!

    Despite very different personalities and differing interests, my parents had a very happy marriage – and maybe that’s why!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      My parents also had a long and mostly happy marriage, but bridge did not bring out the best in them. I hated how he berated my mother although I’m sure she did not follow all of the conventions and relied on her intuition.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, how interesting and sad that your grandchildren don’t know any card games, much less, a deck of cards. But what a statement about the current state of play in our society. I, like you, grew up playing tons of card games. When my husband and I traveled, we always had a deck of cards tucked into the suitcase in case the jet-lag caused a sleepless night and we needed to while away the time.

    But it is true, even he just plays those games on his iPhone now. A few years ago, I encouraged him to play gin rummy with me and we did find it sort of boring. I had to re-learn how to play it. It made me sad, as I had so enjoyed it as a child. Has the world just moved on and become too sophisticated for these simple pleasures? I hope your grandchildren enjoy the card decks and learn all sorts of games that you teach them. Perhaps we will be a more civil society if we are playing Hearts again as a group.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, I love your idea that playing hearts again can lead to a more civil society. That was the beauty of most card games, aside from Solitaire (which we both loved as kids). You need a partner to play them and you have to agree on mutually acceptable rules. Maybe we should send decks of cards to Congress?

  3. Suzy says:

    Wow, Laurie, another great story with your wise perspective on 3 generations. My parents were avid bridge players too, with personalities very much like your parents’. For that reason, they never played as partners, it was always the wives against the husbands, because my mother didn’t want to get treated the way your father treated your mother.

    We always had lots of decks of cards in the house, and I loved all the games you mention. When I was very young, War was a good game to play with my sisters because it didn’t take any skill, so even though they were much older, I had just as much chance of winning.

    Remember when airlines used to be nice to their passengers? They actually gave you decks of cards with their logo on them if you asked the “stewardess.” I have at least a dozen decks of airline cards, although most are probably from airlines that no longer exist. If I ever have grandchildren, I can give those to them, with a little history about airlines thrown in.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Suzy, our parents’ bridge addictions are another things we have in common, along with parents with similar personalities. I wish mine had been as wise as yours and not partnered. I will have to go through the stash of cards in the desk I inherited to see if any were from airlines. I do remember when airlines were nice to passengers. Now, it’s a nightmare.

  4. JeanZ says:

    Times have changed. My mother-in-law claimed her younger daughter first showed she knew how to count by saying, “ace, deuce, trey, ….”

  5. Marian says:

    Laurie, this is a wonderful story, and I get your parents’ drama with bridge, because my parents had such different outlooks on the world. My father was very analytical and deliberate, while mother has great intuitive card sense, and like you, I don’t! Your card game list was delightful (love the idea of reconstructing War as Winner). Could the game you knew as Snap or Slap be what we called Spit? I don’t remember it exactly except at certain points in the game the players slapped cards on the table really hard!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Now I’m confused, Marian. I did play spit, slap, and snap with my kids. Maybe they were the same game? Does anyone know? What I remember was it was an excuse for slapping your sibling’s hand, often a bit too hard. Too bad neither of us inherited our mothers’ card sense.

  6. Wonderful story, Laurie! I’m thinking pretty much every game could be thought of as a metaphor for life (although maybe not quite so obviously as The Game of Life). As you wrote, you grew up in a house of cards, literally; I grew up in one, figuratively. Delicate balance and friction do not a stable structure make. Yet even though our “house” as I knew it collapsed, I’m still game for whatever life throws my way. Because you play the hand you’re dealt, right? You win some, you lose some. You gotta know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. And in the immortal words of Yul Brynner, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera..

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