Card Sharps, Card Dullards

Ellie, darlin’ — Your grandfather and I haven’t seen you in two months — and won’t see you again till your second birthday in August. So we’re relying on FaceTime calls and photos and reports from your parents to keep apprised. It’s dizzying to try to keep up with you.

You and your father.

You’ve been playing the harmonica, running and jumping in water fountains, lugging your backpack and stuffed animals. Sometimes, you talk a little to us — but not always. You’re not going to perform like anybody’s trained monkey, I’ve noticed. Good for you.

In the meantime, Opa and I have been slaving away at work, reading, going to movies, exercising, seeing friends. Being an adult, you’ll notice, isn’t nearly as active or colorful as being a kid. But we’re in our sixties, and you have to grow up some time.

Since you haven’t graduated from high school (or even kindergarten), you haven’t heard a commencement speech yet. When that happens, you often get some windbag at the podium telling you about the Game of Life being pretty much like any other game. That is: You should show up early, play fair, play hard, blah, blah, blah, pass the popcorn. The upshot? Life is like a sport.

In my life, the closest thing I have to a sport is my leisurely pursuit of word games — Scrabble and its next-of-kin, Words With Friends. Well, so it’s not always so leisurely. Sometimes, it’s a competitive blood sport, if you want to know the ugly truth.

But here’s how it goes in these games. You acquire letters randomly, then put together words on a board. Your score depends on how rare your letters are (J’s, X’s, and Z’s are high-dollar) and how skillfully you place your letters.

So — skill and tenacity count. But so does luck as to which letters you draw. The funny thing is, though, you only think about luck when you run out of it. I’ve watched myself play again and again and I can’t help my reactions to these games.

I have wonderful high-scoring letters with just enough vowels to form good words. I play easily, I score high — I am a Scrabble genius!

I have miserable letters that are mostly vowels, and you can only spell “aioli” so many times without going into a serious shame spiral. It’s not that I’m a bad player — even if my score is dismal! I am unlucky! The world and the alphabet have conspired against me. Life is unfair.

You see the problem? When I’m up, I give all the credit to myself. Forget about luck when you’re clearly such a great player. But when I’m down — well, who could do anything with this rat’s nest of letters?

I play these games often — too often — and watch my unvarying reactions. I never learn. I don’t know if life is like a sport or game; all I know is, sports and games are depressingly like life. We give ourselves way too much credit when we don’t deserve it.

So far, you’ve drawn a good hand in life, my dearest girl. I’m happy for that, but I hope you always remember the sheer randomness of life. The more we have, the greater our obligations to the world. That’s hard to remember sometimes, but it’s vital to living a good and caring life in a harsh world. Love you, Coco


  1. Laurie · June 7, 2017

    Too true! And to think that foreign words are not allowed in this global environment! Hopefully, when Ellie plays the rules will have changed!

  2. Jean rather · June 7, 2017

    Love your thoughts on Life and Games! I was just complimenting myself for playing a really bad hand of
    Bridge “brilliantly.” Your letter to Ellie made me think of the many times we “play thru the pain” and come through stronger. Thanks for the
    reminder. ?

  3. Barbara Fox · June 7, 2017

    Rules and choices are what we live by. Acknowledging the ups and downs is absolutely the way to “play the game.” Thank you for the endearing and wise offerings to your sweet little granddaughter. Always a pleasure reading your thoughts to her.