This I Believe

Bruce - Okemos, Michigan
Entered on February 3, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, pleasure

I believe in the power of cribbage.

I grew up in a family that did not play cards. I hardly know how to shuffle.

My wife grew up playing card games of all kinds, from Crazy Eights and Go Fish to the ultimate two-person card game, cribbage. And the queen of cribbage in my wife’s family was her grandmother. Sitting in her sun room, Nana always had a deck of cards and a cribbage board at hand, eagerly waiting for opponents.

Because I am such a dud card player, I did little to foster the card playing spirit in my own children. They played video and computer games with each other; we parents even joined them sometimes. I rationalized that video games are the modern equivalent of card games.

But that’s not really true. In cribbage, you face each other, hand cards to each other, speak to each other, compile points together, move pegs side by side around a board together.

You don’t have to chat while playing cribbage, but you can. It’s possible to think about sorting your cards, to figure out the points in your hand, to pass to your opponent’s crib, to keep score, while maintaining a conversation about school, about music, about friends, about life in general.

Near the end of my son’s most recent visit home from college, I was beginning to get the sinking feeling of emptiness that comes with his departure. I love having him home; the house feels full and lively and right with all four of us here. But it’s hard to make the most of a brief visit, to really feel like we’ve connected.

So on the last night I tried something radical and out of character. I invited him to play cribbage. My computer had taught me to play; he had learned from his grandparents. Neither of us was an expert, but we knew enough to make a go of it. We found a deck that was only missing two cards, and we kept score on paper. He won, 121 to 120, with a bit of clever strategy that allowed him to peg out before I did.

As we played, I realized that the value of the game wasn’t the game itself, the winning and losing. The power of cribbage was its ability to make a busy father sit still with his busy son for an hour.

And then I understood that Nana didn’t love cribbage only because she always won. She loved it because it allowed her to spend time with her family, one person at a time.

When I first joined my wife’s family, I didn’t play cribbage, so I never sat across from Nana, shuffling, dealing, passing cards, laying down cards, pegging, and talking. I didn’t get to know her as well as I could have. It has taken me 23 years to figure out what I was missing.

I ordered a cribbage board of my own last night.