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Monday, December 20, 2010

PLAYING AROUND AT CHRISTMAS

A Family Christmas, 1957

We always played games at our house on Christmas eve and at other times during the holidays when the family gathered. I have warm memories of us sitting around a crokinole board, flicking the round wooden discs with a forefinger as I attempted to get it into the winning zone or, better still, into the center hole. Those big wooden hexagonal-shaped boards were as much a part of Christmas as the tree and presents. We also played Chinese checkers and Snakes and Ladders. Having an aversion to snakes, it troubled me to sit in front of that board and have to slide my game chip down their slithery backs. I’d much rather climb the ladders.


Some years later we advanced to some new games: Monopoly, where you played with pretend money and bought and sold property; and Clue, a detective game where you got to solve a murder. (Always the wanna-be-crime writer, I loved that game!). Later it was Scrabble that was a popular game and one I still enjoy.

One year, when I was married and my husband was doing work for a businessman in Chinatown, we were invited to join the family for the Chinese New Years. The place where they lived and where Jimmy Lee, the owner had his watch-repair shop, happened to be listed in the Guinness Book as the narrowest occupied building in the world. And it was narrow. I remember being amazed when we were invited into the Lee’s living room and it was barely wide enough for a couch. Then I had a great surprise when we went ‘downstairs’ where the party was to be held, and discovered that the rec room was right under Pender Street. Who would ever guess? I wondered if it was at one time one of the secret rooms that led into the mysterious Chinatown underground.

There were a number of tables set up in Jimmy’s ‘rec room’ and on each was a board with coloured tiles and a bottle of very expensive whiskey. The players sat around on the four sides of each table and one shuffled through the tiles. This was mah-jong. I was fascinated! The sound of the tiles clicking was a familiar one but until that moment I didn’t realize that when I walked through Chinatown and heard the sound it was a mah-jong game being played in some back room. It’s one of the popular Chinese gambling games and they always play it on their new years eve.

A lot of money went back and forth on those tables and many bottles of expensive whiskey were consumed. I watched in rapt silence as the players gambled, won or lost. I wished I knew how to play and for a long time afterwards wanted to buy a mah-jong board and get someone to teach me. But gambling had never been allowed in my home. Not even a game of gin rummy.

Eventually, I learned how to play poker and on some Christmases my husband and I would invite friends over for friendly games of Rummoli, with a deck of cards, a stack of poker chips. The stakes weren’t too high as we always played for pennies. No bottles of expensive whiskey either, just cases of beer and chips with dip for refreshments.

I’ve never forgotten those Christmas eves of playing games with the family and every time I go by a toy store where they sell games, I think of buying a monopoly game or a scrabble game to play. Instead when I have the family over for Christmas Eve dinner we get into playing “Spot the hand!” scoring point whenever the hand in the video version of the fireplace comes out to place a new log on the TV fire. But now I have a gas fireplace and even that game has ended. Must find a new form of entertainment for this year: Video Games anyone?

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