In the Cards

My mother's second marriage and the sign on the car says "New Dealer." 

My mother's second marriage and the sign on the car says "New Dealer." 

Yesterday, I cleaned out my desk and cleared some of the book shelf that sits next to it. My work space is typically organized but it had become cluttered over the summer and, in anticipation of returning to writing when the kids go back to school, I felt I needed to clear my desk as much as my mind in preparation.

I packed up the children's books the kids had dumped in my room, saying goodbye to Ferdinand the Bull and Wemberly Worried and Peter Rabbit. I sifted through old pictures that I had removed from albums at some point and put them in a big envelope to deal with in the future. In my desk itself, I got rid of old business cards and chargers of phones and cameras past and rediscovered my pile of abandoned manuscripts. So many words and stories, so much of my life on the page.

I pulled out the biggest one - my first attempt at a memoir - and read the first line, "I come from a family of card players." Definitely not my best line but an important part of the past nonetheless. In an essay I wrote in 2012, I did better with the idea but that essay still has not found a home. I learned so much from playing cards. I learned to count and add. I learned perseverance, since my mother was an intense competitor who wouldn't let me win a single game because "it wouldn't mean anything then, Vikki." And I learned that sometimes old expressions do hold true - you do have to play the hand you're dealt. 

I went back to that envelope of pictures as I thought about all of this, looking for one I know exists - my mother and I sitting at her old oak table with a deck of cards between us, both of us staring at the camera in surprise. Perhaps the truest picture of the best of our relationship. I didn't find the picture but I'll continue looking.

I then started going through old notebooks and journals. I didn't start reading them because I would likely still be sitting on the floor surrounded by them. I know they are filled with details about trips and anecdotes about early parenthood and so much more I've forgotten. But as I sorted them into used versus new, a slip of paper fell out of one of them.

A simple scrap of paper to help me remember the scoring in Pitch, written in my mother's hand writing. 

I grew up playing Rummy but my mother often played Pitch with her sisters and I came to that game later in life. It was not ingrained in my mind in the same way so my mother made me a cheat sheet that I obviously kept for future games, though I never had the chance to use it again.

I don't play cards like I used to and haven't taught my kids to play. Cleaning out my desk made me realize that I miss it, not the game as much as the people and those lazy days spent shuffling. In the summer, my mother would wake me at 7 a.m. and ask if I was going to sleep the day away and, when I'd finally drag myself out of bed and stumble into the kitchen, she'd be sitting at the table with two hands already dealt. I cherish the memory of summer evenings when my sister and I would play with mom. The stakes were high - the loser had to make the salad. For the record, I rarely had to make the salad. 

My kids won't have those kind of memories, though I know they will have others. There have been vacations and sporting events, the books we read to them at bedtime, and our inside jokes. I know there will be so much more that they will remember, things that will mean something to them even if they've slipped my mind just as the memories I held dear were sometimes different than my mother's. Some of the past carries forward and some is lost but we find beautiful reminders in unexpected places. Life is constantly unfolding and just as I learned growing up, you never know what's in the cards and there is a particular excitement that comes with the unexpected.