Playing Cards

I used to know a bunch of different ways to play solitaire—stop me if this gets too sad. 

I learned five or six versions of the card game from a babysitter when I was a kid. I guess she took one look at my ventriloquist’s dummy and thought, Here’s a person who’s going to need something to do with all the time he’ll spend alone

I have forgotten all but three of the solitaire variants, but that’s still more than the one type most people know. I’m referring to the standard configuration that starts out with a row of seven face-up cards—the same solitaire that used to come preinstalled along with Minesweeper on personal computers. 

My grandma used to play that kind of solitaire a lot, only in real life; she didn’t have a computer. She’d sit at her kitchen table and deal herself game after game until she won or, as she put it, “beat Sol.” As if the game were a person. Having fleshed out the biography of this Sol in my head, I think of him as Dr. Solomon Weintraub—ear-nose-and-throat specialist, colitis victim, cardsharp. 

The only other card games I know how to play are Old Maid, Go Fish, Crazy Eights, and rummy 500. I am familiar with the rudiments of poker and blackjack, but I steer clear of those because I am no good at complex strategizing or rapid arithmetic, and gambling stresses me out. 

Of the games mentioned above, the one I have played the most is Crazy Eights, which, despite its wacky name, is a no-nonsense Uno. My two younger sisters and I would play the Eights on rainy days and sick days and such. 

On an occasion when my father (the son of my solitaire-playing grandma) joined the game, he followed a strategy of hoarding all the eights, drawing extra cards even when he didn’t need to, so that he could control the suit and therefore get rid of his cards first, which is the object of the game. But Dad’s method was deemed unfair and a new house rule was introduced, decreeing that you can’t draw from the reserve pile if you’re holding an eight—you have to play it. 

From that day to this, whenever anybody draws from the reserve pile, my sisters and I recite a disclaimer reminding the drawing player that “the illegal stockpiling of eights is strictly prohibited,” and “any violation of this rule will result in immediate disqualification.”

Oh, and whenever you put down an eight to change the suit, you’re supposed to say, “There’s a new rule and it’s my rule, and I choose you to put down a [heart, diamond, club, or spade].”

Is this post making my family sound nuts?

My grandma’s playing cards were faded and worn, closer in texture to fabric than card stock. They were soft—not as soft as the crepe-paper skin that hung loosely from the backs of her arms, but then, nothing else was that soft. 

I get a pang when I think of her hunched over her cards at the kitchen table in the small house where she lived alone, a solitary playing solitaire in solitude. I imagine her absentmindedly chewing her dentures and making untidy stacks of cards on account of her Parkinson’s tremor, and I wonder, Why didn’t I sub in for Solomon Weintraub more often? 

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