“Anyone have cards?”
Never to be caught off guard, Keri produced three decks from her purse.
“We have a couple decks in our room.” Traveling the professional golf circuit with her husband, Kimmie had learned long ago that playing cards was a great way for Justin to relieve stress.
“Who’s up for Nertz?” Not surprisingly, this suggestion came from Aunt Ann, the “Queen of Nertz.”
The multiple variations of “count me in” around the room led to an immediate rearranging of tables and chairs, and quick manipulations of partnering-up. One word could best describe the Kinsman family -- competitive. And the fact that they were sitting in a hotel lobby wasn’t going to stop them from engaging in their favorite activity -- playing games.
Moments later the room was filled with the sound of cards slapping on tables, chairs tumbling in disarray as bodies flew across hard, slippery surfaces to beat someone to a stack of cards, various whoops and hollers, and the inevitable cry of “my card was there first”, all building to the final declaration of “NERTZ”, followed immediately with shrieks of, “no way”, “we were so close”, and “how’d you do that so fast?” And, occasionally, “they must’ve cheated”, with complete family warmth and love attached.
Hearing the ruckus, hotel guests stopped to watch, always at a safe distance. Though the Kinsmans didn’t want to be rude, they were in no position to stop and answer questions, so baffled visitors walked away shaking their heads, muttering phrases such as; “they’re crazy,” “that’s insane,” and “what have they been drinking?” (That last one always amused the family since they were 100% teetotalers.)
When the clock struck midnight, the “we’ve gotta stop” talk started. TJ, sixteen and the youngest of the competitors, silently started to panic. He couldn’t let this night end without a “Nertz”. Partners had been reshuffled with the decks, but he still hadn’t been able to capture a win. Thinking quickly, he convinced the group that the only fair way to determine the true “King/Queen of Nertz” was to go two more rounds, so that everyone would have been partnered together. (TJ correctly guessed that he only needed to mention the need to declare an ultimate “winner” for his family to jump on board.)
TJ’s first final shot was with Uncle Ben. Good. Uncle Ben hated to lose. They did fight valiantly, but unfortunately the attempt was futile. Beaten at the buzzer.
TJ’s last chance. His favorite cousin-in-law, Justin. Even better. Justin, after all, was a professional athlete -- a true competitor. Cards were shuffled, passed left, and dealt. “Ready, go.”
“C’mon little buddy. Watch those piles with eagle eyes. Don’t let anyone beat you to anything.” Justin was a great encourager to TJ.
As their Nertz pile slowly diminished, sweat beads began forming on TJ’s upper lip. By the time they were down to a single card, water droplets were escaping from underneath his Titleist cap. And, being the true competitor he was, Justin started sweating just a bit himself. He could taste victory coming -- which would be a welcome change from the disastrous golf tournament earlier that day.
“Just give me a red jack, Justin. That’s all we need.”
“You got it little buddy.” While Justin’s nimble hands flew through the deck, TJ stared, ready to pounce. Black king. Red eight. Red jack. Got it. Victory was just two card placements away.
Justin grabbed the red jack and placed it on the black queen, followed immediately by TJ’s definitive slap of the final card in their Nertz pile -- the ten of spades.
Raising his hand in the air, TJ was finally able to yell “HERTZ!!”
Huh? Seven puzzled faces turned toward TJ. Fourteen perplexed eyes asked the same question: “What??”
“I mean SMERTZ!!”
Seven jaws dropped simultaneously. And then, from pure exhaustion, three bodies collapsed on the table, shaking with uncontrollable guffaws, two more of the Kinsman stood with tears streaming down their faces, one holding her cheeks and the other grabbing her sides which ached from laughing, and the final two players rolled off their chairs and thrashed around on the floor, trying desperately to keep their giggling from waking sleeping hotel guests.
All the while, TJ stood with his victorious fist in the air, silently praying to God that he hadn’t inherited any of these particular genes from his mom’s side of the family. He didn’t care what they thought. He had Smertzed … or whatever.
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