Saturday, November 30, 2013

All In: Cribbage Club and Phone Calls

At a movie yesterday, my friend teased her high-school aged niece that "I will cut you" if she checked her phone throughout the movie.

My movie-buff friend is perpetually amazed that the next generation of her family cannot be separated from their phones for even the duration of a movie.

"But what if one of my friends dies?" her niece joked.

I thought of those calls that, with luck, don't come until much later in life. "Then you definitely want to turn off your phone, and just be here. Bad news travels fast enough."

When I got home from the movie, Ranger met me at the top of the stairs with the phone.

"It's Aunt Gayle." His aunts are mostly family we have chosen. As Jim and I each have one brother, our family tree holds only one aunt for them.

The aunt on the phone has been my friend for nearly 30 years. In her voice, I heard a careful control, and before she speaks I know something has happened.

When I was pregnant with Ranger, Gayle's geography career found itself in a cul-de-sac. She returned to college. A Wednesday afternoon gap in her course schedule somehow transformed into Cribbage Club.

Wednesday afternoons, Gayle's apartment filled with the alluring scents of home-cooking as we all gathered round the kitchen table for cards.

Fred and Moe both learned cribbage in the military long before Gayle and I were born. Fred, a loud-talking former postmaster and Gayle's brother-in-law, learned to play in the Army. Gayle's Uncle Moe learned to play in the Air Force and sometimes brought his cribbage board made from part of a cockpit dome.

I was equally thrilled to be able to play cribbage regularly. My dad and Jim's family all love the game, and I quickly fell under its spell. Locally, playing cards usually means Euchre (dubbed Indiana's game), Clabber (a regional 4-handed variation on an old German duo game), or even Bridge. Cribbage opportunities rarely come along.

After lunch, working in noisy teams, we raced our pegs along the paths while telling stories and mercilessly teasing each other. When we took breaks, Moe and Fred would retire to the porch for cigars while Gayle and I served up ice cream in the kitchen.

Moe and Gayle visited us in the hospital when Ranger was born even though they could only wave to him through the NICU window. Cribbage Club continued, baby Ranger would usually nap or sit on someone's lap while we played. Months and seasons passed until Ranger was big enough to start grabbing the cards from the table, Aunt Gayle reached the homestretch of her degree and started an internship that quickly became her next career. Summer had arrived, so the boys (men who retired around the time Gayle and I first graduated from college) were eager to return to their gardens and golf courses.

We periodically played in the evenings or at Gayle's family gatherings. The cigars disappeared from the routine when Fred lost half a lung to cancer. He recovered well and was soon back on the golf course and working in the yard. We didn't see his heart attack coming, and it felled him instantly and completely.

At Fred's funeral, I sat with Uncle Moe and we made jokes about how Fred had gotten both Gayle and I to wear skirts while the red rims of Moe's watery blue eyes hinted at the physical pain of grief. Maybe it was because he was the oldest of our group or maybe it was a reminder of his son lost in infancy, Moe's sadness seemed larger and stronger than the broad Ohio River he crossed every time we gathered together. Baby Rogue sat on his lap as we both wiped tears from our eyes and talked about the best times.

Over the phone I heard Gayle say "Uncle Moe died at home yesterday." Thanksgiving Day. We went through the details, and I promised to call her back.

Though we all had cell phones, I do not ever remember one on the table while we played. Any calls during Cribbage Club were ignored, slightly mocked, or actual emergencies. When we played, told stories, and joked around, for Cribbage Club we were, in the parlance of poker, "all in." And as a result, we all won.

In honor of Uncle Moe this holiday season, please remember to ignore your phones and be wherever you are.

***Baby Toolkit started as a baby gear blog in 2006. Despite a notable lack of babies and a directly correlative waning interest in baby gear, Jim and I keep writing about our lives as geeks, parents, and citizens of the world. For what it's worth, we're Amazon affiliates, though any Amazon links in this post remembering a dear friend would be crass and sort of bonkers. Yet upon writing this, I do think Uncle Moe would find it funny (so here's to you, Moe!). Hold your dear ones close and your technology in cabinets.