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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Uncles/Aunts (04/17/08)

TITLE: Thanksgiving Afternoon With the Queen of Scrabble
By Jan Ackerson


Put any two Wardells in a room, and a board game will break out. I like to think that’s why all the Wardells are smart, funny, and good-looking. Part of it is genetic, but the rest I attribute to a lifetime of game-playing, from Hi Ho Cherry-O to Trivial Pursuit.

There’s certainly a downside. Marrying a Wardell can be intimidating, because we take our game playing seriously. Don’t ask whose turn it is. Don’t forget trump. And don’t try to carry on a conversation during a game.

Oh yes, and don’t throw a game. If 4-year-old Emmy cries because you drew the Ice Cream Float card in Candy Land, well, she’ll just have to get over it. Sometimes in life, people get the Ice Cream Float, kid. Suck it up.

We all have our specialty games. The elderly aunts and uncles can play Uno for an entire evening. Some of the younger cousins enjoy Sorry! marathons during family gatherings. The more intellectual branches of the family play Scrabble. And I am the Scrabble Queen.

Aunt Betty knew that, when she cornered me after Thanksgiving dinner. “Janine,” she said, “I’ve joined a Scrabble club at the senior center.”

“Have you? That’s great!” I stifled an image of octogenarian Scrabblers, fumbling arthritically with their tiles. “Are you having fun?”

She rummaged in her handbag, pulling out a packet of papers. “Look what I’ve got! It’s a list of all the two-letter words, all the Q words, and we get new obscure words to learn every week. I’ve memorized the whole thing!”

I leafed through the papers, amused. My teenaged daughter Maggie came and looked over my shoulder. “Tell me some of the words you learned this week, Aunt Betty.”

“Well, there’s fard.”

Maggie hid her grin in my back. I struggled for a straight face. “What does that mean?”

Aunt Betty laughed. “I don’t know, dear. We don’t memorize what they mean.”

I couldn’t let it go. Fard was simply too funny, and Aunt Betty’s innocence just enhanced my barely-suppressed hilarity. “Maggie, there’s a dictionary in the den. Go look up fard, will you?”

Maggie returned quickly. “It’s means to apply cosmetics.”

Sometimes I do things for the sole purpose of making Maggie laugh. Such was the case with fard. I immediately acted out both parts of an impromptu drama.

“Louise, where are you?”

“I’m in the bathroom!”

“What are you doing in there?”

“Leave me alone, I’m farding!”

“You’re what?”

“I’m farding, hold your horses!”

And Maggie did laugh, while Aunt Betty just looked oblivious. “Janine, will you play a game with me?”

I’d never played Aunt Betty before; she usually hung out with the Uno players. But she was looking at me so eagerly--it occurred to me that she actually thought she could win. In an utter betrayal of all my Wardell instincts, I knew what I had to do.

I pulled Maggie aside. “I’m going to play her,” I said, “but I’m going to let her win.”

Maggie was shocked. “What? Mom, are you sure you can do that?”

“Mags, I can’t beat my elderly aunt at Scrabble. Look how excited she is.” We glanced across the room. Aunt Betty was studying the sheaf of obscure words. “Come watch, you’ll be proud of me.”

And so the game began.

Aunt Betty opened modestly, after complaining of a horrible rack: TAME, for 12 points.

I had great letters. I could have neatly slipped MOWED directly under TAME, making TO, AW, ME, and ED at the same time (37 points). But instead I made some mild grumbling noises, and played TWO.

We each took a few more turns, and I held back every time. Maggie sat beside me, occasionally squeezing my leg in encouragement. Aunt Betty led, 45 to 39. Well, I couldn’t let her know I was throwing it—it had to be close, right?

And then it happened—I was pulling tiles out of the pouch, and a word practically formed itself on my rack. V-I-C-E-R-O-Y. Maggie gasped, looked at me, and shook her head. Don’t do it, mom. Don’t. Do. It.

I played the word, marching down the board, intersecting with TAME to make TAMER. With the bonus for a “bingo”—86 points.

I went on to beat Aunt Betty by 112. Maggie left the room in disgust halfway through the game.

After dessert, Aunt Betty asked me for a rematch. She’s such a sweet, precious lady.

I trounced her again.

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This article has been read 1610 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Joanne Sher 04/24/08
Great characterizations and descriptions - and such a fun story. Truly enjoyed this!
Sheri Gordon04/24/08
My face is hurting from laughing. Your family sounds like my family--right down to the unwritten rules about game-playing. (And, like your family, people are intimidated to marry into our super-competitive family.)

This is way too much fun...I have to go read it again.

Great job with the topic.
Lynda Schultz 04/24/08
This is hilarious. I am a total failure at Scrabble (and now at WORDTwist with some online friends) but could appreciate the difficulty of holding down those "killer instincts" of a REAL player. Well done.
Sally Hanan04/24/08
Very funny! Where on earth did you find the word fard??
Tim George04/25/08
In my wife's family it was Rummy. I never had met people so serious about a deck of cards! Thanks for reminding me of why those times are so special.
Charla Diehl 04/25/08
I really enjoyed this. My mom loved a good game of Scrabble, as does my husband. I'm going to try to use "fard" the next time I play--it's so funny! "Farding in the bathroom"--I'm still laughing. Too bad families don't spend more time playing those old board games anymore.
Laury Hubrich 04/26/08
Hilarious! My mom lives for Skippo and we used to play Nerts for hours. Lots of fond memories!
Lenda Blackmon04/26/08
That was too funny. Very enjoyable read. I laughed so hard! Thanks I needed that.
Joshua Janoski04/27/08
I love board games, so this story was right up my alley.

The "farding" dialogue was the best! I literally laughed out loud.

I enjoyed this light hearted piece. Thank you so much for sharing it.
Beth LaBuff 04/28/08
I had to look up "fard" to see if you were pulling my leg :) That is so funny!
Thanks for entertaining me this evening.
Betty Castleberry04/28/08
LOL! I love your Scrabble Queen. Love the new word you taught me as well. Very entertaining entry.
jodie banner04/28/08
This sounds like thanksgiving at our house. We don't even play trivial pursuit anymore because of the resulting throwing of the gameboard across the room.My mother was always the queen of scrabble but lately I've beat her a few times. Wanna play?
Chely Roach04/28/08
You had me a "Suck it up."
Yvonne Blake 04/28/08
I'm a Scrabbler too, but I never heard of "fard" :)
I was waiting for a twist at the end, but didn't get it. (a little disappointed)
Good character sketches and family descriptions. You'd love it at our house.
Great writing, as usual.
Marlene Austin04/28/08
Excellent, non-sweet entry. LOL So glad you used Hi Ho CheeryO - I played this with my daughter. She loved it. Thanks for bringing back those simple, special memories.
Loren T. Lowery04/28/08
So fun to read and enjoy this moment in time with this family. Our "Scramble" was Uno, but the memories and the fun all seem to be the same.
Dianne Janak04/28/08
So happy to read something so real, without being too sentimental. Loved the humor, the laughter, the competitive edge,and even the name was funny... was that fiction? Sorry if that wasn't the creative part.. it just so fit with the story... I can see them in my mind.. you rock! Thanks for the lift today.
Gerald Shuler 04/28/08
Are we related? My family is so serious about games that one cousin cancelled his engagement to a woman who didn't like to play games.

This was a wonderful read. One of my favorites so far.
Debbie Wistrom04/28/08
I miss those days, will you adopt me? Rummy and Triv was our Thanksgiving games of choice. Thanks for the romp.
Lollie Hofer04/28/08
First of all, how could someone NOT read your story - the title was too intriguing. Enjoyed the story all the way to the end. I liked the ending... no twists, no angles, no surprises...with some stories that would have been a disappointment but not in this one. It's a real story about a real family. A REAL competitive family.
Sharlyn Guthrie04/28/08
I want to know how long it took you to play around with all those words on a Scrabble board in order to write this story. The family interactions are very real and refreshing. Great fun!
Henry Clemmons04/28/08
Besides being utterly clever and entertainig, the story flowed with the touch of a master deciding when and where to tickle our fancy. Very, very funny; just what I needed.
Willena Flewelling 04/29/08
Hilarious! Absolutely delightful! And it brings back memories for me. In our family my husband's mother was the Queen of Scrabble. I'm not half bad, but I was NO match for her!
Debbie Roome 04/29/08
This is funny and brought back so many memories. My Gran taught me to play Scrabble as a kid and within months, I was thrashing her. My family refuse to play Scrabble anymore as they say I take all the fun out of it :( Would love to challenge your MC.
Dee Yoder 04/29/08
Oh boy! I'm not competitive at all; until I play my husband in Scrabble. He puts down words like "Qum" and dares me to challenge him. I laughed out loud while I read this...some games just bring out the beast in even the most gentle people. Hee hee.
Marita Thelander 04/29/08
Oh...you merciless scoundrel of a niece...you crack me up!
Peter Stone04/30/08
Awesome, especially the 'I'm farding' comment, and the fact that although the MC was trying to throw the game, was unable to change her spots and do so.
Carole Robishaw 04/30/08
Chinese checkers! That was the game when I was growing up. My aunt & Uncle, and My dad would lay for hours. then my younger sister started. I could never keep my mind on it long enough to remember what moves I had planned from one turn to the next.

Loved your story, great writing.
Joy Faire Stewart04/30/08
Oh, this was fun! Love it and very unique writing on topic.
Glynis Becker04/30/08
LOL! Love this, Jan! And I only know the word 'fard' because I read where a lady got arrested for farding in her car while driving--I laughed for days over that!
Sara Harricharan 04/30/08
This was soooo funny! I loved the last line with "I trounced her again" THat was too funny, I could see a whole novel expanding here on what would happen if some poor, innocent guy decided to date Maggie and got wrapped up in all the games. ROFL! Too funny! (and now I know what fard means...) ^_^
Patty Wysong04/30/08
I Loved it! The closing line was the icing on the cake. You'd slaughter me at Scrabble--and I wouldn't care, as long as I had fun losing. LoL. As always: Great job!!
Aaron Morrow04/30/08
Words to live by:

"Sometimes in life, people get the Ice Cream Float, kid. Suck it up."

Outstanding piece, the pacing was great and it was so true to life when I was growing up that I was afraid to laugh for shame at my overly competitive nature.
Pam Carlson-Hetland04/30/08
Oh, I loved this. Can't add too much to the comments above but I'm still laughing. I used to play Scrabble with my mother...she was serious. I'm going to use "fard" on my daughter some day just to see what happens. Hilarious! Great writing!
Pamela Kliewer04/30/08
Oh, this is priceless. Loved it from start to finish, being a voracious Scrabble player myself lately. ;)
Angela M. Baker-Bridge04/30/08
Everyone identifies with this excellent story in one way or another.

I related to the "marrying into the family" line... my in-laws only played Pinnacle, cards, or Risk every time they were together. I never played cards so I read alone. I did learn Risk, even winning. My mom loved Chinese Checkers and Scrabble, but not as regularly or seriously as my in-laws.

Thanks for your creative genius.
Catrina Bradley 04/30/08
What a great opening line! And it moves into a WONDERFULLY awesomely amazing piece of writing. (But, excuse me, I'M the Scrabble Queen. And now I know a new word. :D ) Love love love it!
Tessy Fuller05/01/08
This was great! I think it takes great talent to capture humor and you did it well. I also have a new word for my growing vocabulary. Hmm..wonder who I'll try it on first.
Susan Storm Smith05/07/08
I am laughing, holding my sides
Pat Guy 05/07/08
Oh Jan(ine)! How totally and utterly transparent! This has you written all over and through it. (chuckle, chuckle)

And what a write - a total pleasure to read.

(still chuckling)
Karen Wilber05/07/08
In a household full of men, I now have a new word guaranteed to bring the house down. I must remember this. You're the queen of humor.