I’ve heard that friendships are the way to salvation and possibly the reason we are even here…
On Saturday nights in the 70s laughter would pour out of the backroom at our old house on Nashville Road. I remember when my sisters and I would peek through the doorway to see our parents playing poker with their friends and listen to their stories of the week told in our native Spanglish. The rolling chairs were filled with “Mom and Dad”, “Orlie and Mary” and “Chris and Betty”. As were most kids back then, we were raised to call adults Mr. and Mrs. but these were daily characters in our lives so we referred to them by their first names – as couples. They were part of the classic unions in life – Fred and Ginger, Captain & Tenille, and Simon and Garfunkle, till death do they part.
What struck me about poker nights was the friendships. The solidarity in welcoming each other every week. Knowing someone wants you there, with you, alive, ready to share, laugh, commiserate, and compare notes on defects and deficiencies.
Before poker night, Saturdays were busy. All four girls washed and curled their hair in painful, wire rollers, then sat under the big metal dryer (which was like a home appliance). We’d then go to confession, and prep for poker night.
A little history on confession in our home: We went to confession at 4:00 EVERY SATURDAY “whether we needed it or not”. Incidentally, at about 3:00 on Saturday, I would boldly say, “Mom, I don’t need to go to confession this week” and every week as if reading from a Catholic guide to mothering, she responded firmly, “Lucretia, get ready you’re going. You’ll gain graces”…dramatic pause… “since you don’t want to go, you can offer it up to the poor souls in Purgatory.” Any time something was hard, mom would say “Just DO IT and offer it up.” With all the “offering up” I had been doing, I pictured home prices plummeting in Purgatory and Heaven’s gate being slammed with newbies. So off I went kneeling in the tiny booth, reciting the same six sins every week. Then we’d hustle out, compare penances, and head home for poker night.
Everyone would arrive, exchange handshakes and hugs and we’d hear “Ante up! Penny ante!” White plastic chips were flung to the middle of the table. Cards were shuffled and cut, the name of the game was announced, and the dealing began. There was the banter of “one-eyed jacks” and “deuces wild” and throughout the night they joked and teased, bet and folded, and filled the house with laughter. Between games, all would munch on Triscuit crackers, a cheese ball, Schlitz beer, and margaritas and catch up on the week. They had a blast.
The next morning, my sisters and I would dart into the backroom and look under the poker table to see if any coins had fallen to the floor. And somehow, every week, these Depression survivors were careless enough to drop a few nickles, dimes, and even a stray quarter on the linoleum floor for us to “find”. It wasn’t until I was older that mom and dad told me they intentionally left the coins. Always a believer, I was shocked.f
Through the six of them, it was as if they had seen it all. They didn’t need all the self-help books we have now to tell them what drives happiness. Every week they’d ante up and build lifelong meaningful connections which brought them an exquisite amount of joy and lasted a lifetime. Today, only three remain of the six who sat at that hexagon-shaped poker table mom upholstered herself. Mom, Dad, and Mary. Now a trio. Like the Trinity. They are still close and will remain so until the cards are dealt in heaven.
What I learned:
I think about the adult friendships we form now and how different they are from those of our parents. When we moved to the suburbs, we were shocked to see empty yards and quiet streets. Unlike when we grew up, kids today don’t typically play outside until the street lights come on or run home for a drink of hose water. Playdates are planned, birthday parties are at Chuck E. Cheese, and sports schedules dictate our destinations for the week and weekends. The parents you’re around are those of the kids who are on the same team, play the same instrument, or are crazy enough to join the PTA with you. They become your friends. Or not.
As parents — as humans, we need wise friends who will walk with us, share with us, and flip on their flashlights to guide us through our deep and giant lives. Friends who will forgive us our trespasses. We’ll never figure all of this out, this life, but we can pay attention to it today. Be a little more kind, less rigid in our thinking, and invite friends over to play cards.
We truly need each other.
Note: Poker nights haven’t been a part of our rituals. However, we play as a family and have ensured all our kids know how to shuffle, deal, bet, and bluff. Heck, those are life skills.
“The thing about old friends is not that they love you, but that they know you. They remember that disastrous New Year’s Eve when you mixed White Russians and champagne, and how you wore that red maternity dress until everyone was sick of seeing the blaze of it in the office, and the uncomfortable couch in your first apartment and the smoky stove in your beach rental. They look at you and don’t really think you look older because they’ve grown old along with you, and, like the faded paint in a beloved room, they’re used to the look. And then one of them is gone, and you’ve lost a chunk of yourself…”
― Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake