One of the things that I'll always remember about my father is his love for certain games, a love which sometimes bordered on an obsession. Growing up as a kid, I'll never forget how much he liked to play Monopoly. He would dragoon my sister and me into game after game after game, each of which would last for hours, or until he had all of our money, or until we were sent off to bed, at which time he declared victory by default. And he always won, every single time. It wasn't until I was old enough to pay close attention to the financial transactions that I began to observe a pattern of "banking errors" which were as regular as they were consistently in his favor. Naturally he was always the banker. But he also played with a strategy that enabled him to gain eventual control of those key properties that every winner needs to possess while us kids were still collecting favorite colors or properties with cool-sounding names. But there came a day when I began to see what he was doing and emulate him, and then his winning streak came to an end.
Scrabble was another favorite of his over the years as well. This was a bit safer to play with him since there was no money to be doled out and tracked, but as my vocabulary grew through the years, I came to realize that many "words" that he used to rack up major points were either "creatively" spelled or else they weren't really words at all. I eventually got to where I could hold my own with him, but they were some tough games, both because he really knew Scrabble strategy and because he was always the scorekeeper. "(See: "Monopoly banking errors" above.) And like our Monopoly games, I finally began to beat him once I observed his strategies and copied them, at which time my college vocabulary began to overcome his score-keeper's math advantage, at which time, this game, like Monopoly, ceased to be a favorite of his, at least until my nephew, The Spud, became old enough to play.
But come what may, we always had Cribbage.
He developed a love for this game maybe ten years ago or so, and I was reluctant to engage him for a long time because by this time I understood how things worked. Sure enough, the first few times that I sat down to play with him, it was obvious that he'd done his homework and learned the game, and he was pretty damned sharp at it. Frankly, I didn't relish getting beat game after game after bloody game so I didn't take him up on too many invites to play. But then I lost my leg and he came to stay for a few weeks to help me adjust, and he brought that damned Cribbage board with him.
This time I was pretty much at his mercy. I mean, I didn't even have my first prosthetic yet so it's not like I could walk away from him. We set up a table in my gun room and every evening we played Cribbage for a couple of hours and talked. And as expected, I lost almost every game for a while.
But over time, as with the other games, I began to see his strategies, and once I understood how the game worked, I began to formulate my own. By the time he finally packed up and went home, I could hold my own with him most of the time, and I think that we both saw that this wasn't a game that was automatically going to go one way because of his score-keeping or another because of my literary skills; by the time he left it had settled down to a game of skill and chance between two equally-capable adversaries, usually fought with cold beers on the table and a snoozing German Shepherd beneath it. Those were good moments during an otherwise traumatic time.
Over the years, when he came to see me, or when I went home to see him, the Cribbage board was usually broken out and put to use for a few games every night. Over the last few months in particular, we actually played quite a bit, only now it was him who was experiencing the diminished mobility. But he hadn't lost his Cribbage sharps though. He was still white hot at it and neither one of us was able to develop much of an edge over the other. It got to where I was really enjoying our games and looking forward to the next two-out-of-three or three-out-of-five match.
Alas, we never got to play on my last visit with him. In fact, I only just made it up in time to say good-bye before he was gone. But I'll always have the memories of our time together and the hours we spent with his Cribbage board. And now I have a permanent reminder in the form of this: