January 21st, 2009


LJ Idol week 17: open topic

Growing up it was Mom who did most of the hands on parenting. She taught us our table manners, to say please and thank you, to count to ten and the alphabet, to not kick each other when we were angry. Dad was mostly a silent presence. But Dad taught me how to play cribbage.


One of the few memories I still have of my Great-Grandpa T is watching he and my dad play cribbage together. I must have been around six years old. I remember the rhythm of the game, and how every time I thought I had it figured out they would switch from the ‘play’ to the ‘show’ and I’d have to catch up again. Dad also played cribbage with his dad, my Grandpa M. Their games were more competitive, but also more conversational. The rules and tactics they used were ingrained, it was a rare thing if they had to think a long time about what to throw into a crib. There was a little poem that Grandpa used every time his hand counted out to four points on fifteens (which is common).




That’s all there is

And there ain’t no more.


It made me laugh every time. Finally I was old enough to start learning the game myself.


I was so bad at it when we started. If you’ve ever played cribbage you know that there are several different things going on at the same time. You stare at the six cards you’re dealt trying to keep points in your hand for the show, trying to decide which two to throw into the ‘crib’ (and those strategies changed drastically if the crib was yours or your opponents), and hopefully keeping some cards that would help you peg a few points in the play section. It’s a lot to keep track of. The scoring is based off having cards that total up to fifteen, pairs, runs, flushes, and occasionally the right jack. We played a lot of games with the cards face up, Dad helping me figure out what my best moves would be, and showing me points I had in my hand that I had missed. Sometimes we only played a few hands, instead of all the way to the end of the board at 121 points.


Eventually I got good enough that all games were played with the cards face down. I would still occasionally ask Dad what he would have done with my hand, pulling my original cards back together after we had finished counting the show. But mostly I trusted my instincts and played.  Soon enough Dad decided that it was time to start playing by ‘grown up’ rules.


The grown up rules weren’t really any different, they just removed the net. When points were counted if you missed anything in your hand or play that your opponent saw, they got the points instead of you. I had to learn ‘nobs’ for myself, instead of waiting for someone else to point it out. And we started playing for money. Never anything drastic, the standard family stakes are 25 cents a game or 50 cents a ‘skunk’ (if you’re beaten by more than 30 points).   But now the games had a little extra weight. I still loved to play, and I took it very seriously. After all you have to pay attention if you want to win.


One summer when I was in high school Dad and I decided to have an ongoing tournament. We kept track of all the wins and losses, but the payout would only happen once I went back to school. We played a lot of games that summer, chatting our way through “fifteen-twos” and “fifteen-fours”. I had a nearly perfect hand once (my jack was the wrong suit) and we both celebrated my luck. I got skunked a few times, and finally managed to skunk Dad for the first time. I gloated for the rest of the day. As the games rolled on the total owed was never more than a few dollars, and we took turns on the losing side as we see-sawed back and forth. After many, many, games the night before school started I paid Dad the $1.25 I owed him.


I went away to college, and other than a summer or two early on, I haven’t lived in Wisconsin since. I don’t get home as often as I would like, and usually my trips are a whirlwind of visits to relatives; people to see, things to do. But sometimes we end up with a quiet night, and Dad or I will suggest a game. He pulls out one of the many cribbage boards he has (one of my favorites is the one that belonged to Great-Grandpa T) and the cards are dealt.   We still play for the same stakes, 25 cents a game and 50 cents a skunk.


I am grateful that Dad taught me how to play cribbage.  And I am grateful now to realize how much more than just cribbage I learned.

@@@This is my entry for LJ Idol week 17 - it was an open topic so we could write about anything.  The month of doom gets doomier so I have no idea when or if we'll have a poll, but I'll add an update once I know what the week brings.@@@