Crinkled brows, eyes shifting from side to side, estimating, evaluating; finally a bark of laughter erupts and a lead card is thrown onto the table.
“We have you now,” shrieks a female voice.
“Maybe,” replies a male opponent as a second card meets the first.
A third card, higher ranked, joins the small pile, and a fourth. The trick is taken by the opponent.
“Always expect a holdout,” the man’s voice advises.
The aroma of strong coffee and one of Mom’s baked wonders tantalizes nostrils and stomachs of those present. It’s always the same group; couple vs. couple or men vs. women. The game might change from Euchre to rummy or to Pitch, but the night would leave everyone relaxed and satisfied.
Mom’s sister had a great deal to do with that feeling of hilarity. She loved playing the fool during card nights and did it very well. Some nights she was more boisterous than on others, but she seldom turned serious when games were in play.
My younger brother and his counterpart cousin generally watched TV during card night and then settled down to sleep. My older cousin and I watched the game in the kitchen as interested by-standers. We didn’t play. If Euchre was being played, we definitely were not allowed to play. In our part of the country, that game was a gambling game, even when not played for stakes. No children need apply.
None would ever consider the two women as not being family. My mom resembled my aunt in coloring and hair style. Their builds were nearly identical. Both were natural artists and could turn almost anything into a piece of art.
My mother worked in paint and clay or metal and findings from the forest. Her sister worked in paint and fabric, for the most part. Both loved antiques, but my aunt could have been a dealer. The knowledge she had was gleaned from years of scouring antique shops, auctions, and estate sales.
Most of all, both women loved the outdoors and nature. They’d grown up in the country. Their mother had taught them a deep love and respect for what grew wild or by design. They each enjoyed growing food for their tables as much as gathering from the wild.
With all of these commonalities, they managed to remain individuals who stood apart from each other.
Auntie was more playful than Mom. Mom had better rapport with children and animals. Auntie desired a house full of antiques and a spotless home. Mom liked things tidy, but she preferred a sense of home and comfort to fill rooms meant for living.
Aunt and Uncle often took Grandma and my cousins on trips away for a weekend to see other relatives. Mom didn’t bother. Her sister took great pleasure in that part of mother-daughter time; leaving Mom to do the Sunday home visits for family time.
Sisters, friends, companions, champions, confidantes; each filled those roles for the other. They talked in person or on the phone every day, without fail. Close didn’t begin to describe their relationship. They could have been twins for all the difference there was between them.
Except, of course, at the card table. Auntie bantered nonsense, trying to throw off the opponents. She’d accuse her husband of stacking the deck if he wasn’t her partner, and encourage him to throw better cards her way during the deal if he was her partner. The poor man couldn’t win an engagement with her either way.
Mom would go along with the gags, kidding, nonsense, and laughter, all the while keeping herself unaffected by it. I figure that for her it was like being at one of the old carnivals. A person heard the barker calling out to those passing by, but that didn’t mean that the person had to pay the quarter to see the Freak Show.
It was the night’s total atmosphere and camaraderie that Mom enjoyed, and much of that atmosphere was created by her sister. Auntie was a one-woman show and didn’t need much encouragement. That was how she liked it, I think.
There are times when I think back to those nights just to listen to that laughter and to see again the absolute joy on my aunt’s face when she’d pulled off a really good card play. It’s been a nearly thirty years since she left us, but I can still smile at her antics, knowing that she entertained us as much for her own sake as for any other reason.