“Cut throat.” It’s a word that usually describes pirates, politicians, and certain citizens of Wall Street. Oddly enough, it also applies to certain residents of MapleCreek. How, you ask, could such a sinister adjective possibly be attached to the dear denizens of a retirement community? The answer might surprise you. But then again, it might not.
During the work week, the Woods’ lobby is an ever-changing, at times unpredictable scene of hustle and bustle, but one constant I can always rely on is the regular afternoon card game that takes place at the corner table near the coffee pots, and it is not to be missed: four-player, winner-take-all Uno. The scene itself is a bit of an irony: nowhere is the dark, smoky, fiendish atmosphere of some back alley card club, exchanged instead for the effervescent, cheerful environment of the Woods’ lobby. But don’t be fooled, warns Judy Hoult, a daughter of one of the residents and the game’s main facilitator, your grandmother’s game of Uno this is not—“These ladies are card sharks! It’s all business when you’re at the table.”
Of course, even as she says this, a smirk touches her lips; with cards in hand, Judy visits her mother Margaret frequently during the week, and she sees firsthand the big smiles that a competitive game of cards can bring to the residents’ faces, most of whom were probably raised playing some game or another. For her own mother, playing cards was almost nightly ritual—growing up in the country, Judy reminds me, in the days before the Internet or movies, card-playing was the done thing. “You either played cards or went to bed, and mother rarely went to bed.” For Margaret’s family, the game was Euchre (another four-player battle royale), and sessions would sometimes last well into the morning hours. Now the game is Uno, and games last only an hour or so, but with her daughter’s help, Margaret still carries that fiery passion for a good game of cards with friends and neighbors.
I myself can’t help but smile at the ladies of the corner game, catching snippets of laughter and conversation as I move about my office tasks. Perhaps it’s the mood that the game creates: seeing the life that a simple deck of cards can bring to the residents here is encouraging, and there’s something comforting about the nearness, the familiarity of the lobby ritual. More likely, though, it’s the heavy nostalgia that certain moments of the game bring. For my family it was Scrabble—listening to Judy and Margaret reminisce, I can’t help but think of my own family’s late night-sessions, the laughter, the fierceness, the drama. Does it surprise me, then, that a game of Uno in the afternoon can turn cut throat? Like I said, for my family, it was Scrabble.