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!”
“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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