Monday, October 25, 2021

Up the Lake Cards- Part 1

The Shores of Tripoley
Iffy You Could See What I Hear

Playing cards were an inherent part of what defined Up the Lakeness. Games happened in all places, at all times, for all ages.
It was the poker games of the men that led to the formation of “The Crew,” the collection of my parents and nine of their closest friends who got together about once a month in the off-season rest of the year, and vacationed near Saratoga Springs every August. George was the leader, and my Mom was the planner. Gridding is genetically inherited, I guess. It started with the eleven of them gathering for my folk's tenth anniversary, I think that was to make up for some weird Italian rule that your wedding must be fully populated with relatives you'd never met, before including people you actually like.  Linda invited everyone for the guys to play cards around Christmas and it kept going for years.  The gatherings quickly transitioned into regular assemblies featuring an insane amount of food, and of course, the men’s poker games.
No one wanted to enter the location of their poker games. These were family leaders, deeply loving and caring men. They were normally delightful to be around, full of fun and warmth. Yet if any of our Mothers asked us to get something for them in the cabin the men were playing in, (as they certainly weren’t going to breach that seal) the answer was always the same:
“No, they’ll frown at us.”
The men were wonderful Fathers and Husbands, who excelled at both story and joke telling. Each had their own infectious laugh and grin. They clearly enjoyed each other’s company, and the games played. Yet frowning was as much of a key element of their ritual as the cards, cigar boxes full of quarters, and rum & cokes were.  
(Yes, there were some cigars, cigarettes and scotch mixed in, but I didn't want to mess up the flow... 
like I did here.)
They usually played “The Wheel.” This was basically Texas Hold ‘Em with the table cards in a circle, where their proximity to each other counted. Also, high spade in the hole could take half the pot.  One would either claim “Hand” or “Spade” at the end of the betting.  One could also call “Both” but that would only be if one wanted to lose.
My knowledge of the game had nothing to do with frowning time. That would come later.
Card games were inherent in the blood of everyone Up The Lake, and each cabin had stacks of old decks up on the beams above the windows. There were always a couple of pinochle decks mixed in. They only contained doubles of each suit from nine through ace. Their presence was presumably to throw off any game of solitaire or cause arguments in any game of Go Fish or Rummy the kids tried to play when accidentally grabbing one.
I tried to learn how to play one time, seeing it in progress by a bunch of men on the beach when I was a young child. Being inquisitive, finding the name funny, and being a huge pain in the neck I asked several times, “How do you play pinochle?”
Finally, Jimmy, in a pure and unadulterated display of his sense of humor called me over.
He pointed to the edge of the forest by the watershed, and said,
“You see those trees that make a “V?”
You go over there, and put your 'knockle' between the two trees, and….”

*insert dramatic pause and sly, knowing grin*

“You pee.”

 That’s why I don’t know how to play pinochle.

Everyone had their own favorite versions of solitaire. Frequently a group of people around a table would all be playing with their own decks instead of a playing game as a group. They weren’t ignoring each other, conversations were a plenty. That’s just how we rolled. 
Or dealt.
A lot of people liked the classic “Aces Up” or “Casino” version. Long debates about whether flipping the deck one at a time for a single pass, or three at a time for multiple passes went across the tables of many cabins.  Other long debates, and occasional card flinging, came about when one person would tell the person next to them what moves they should be making, instead of focusing on their own game.

My Grandfather preferred the add-to-thirteen “Pyramid” game. I still echo him when I play, stating, “That’s a-no good, that’s a-no good, and that’s a-no gooood,” as I flip cards. 
Note- He did not have an Italian accent; he had an accent from the Bronx like everyone else in my family. He only used that accent while playing solitaire, as did I.  (Marx Brother’s radio plays non-withstanding.)
Mom liked a game where the whole deck is dealt out that looks like “Spider” on computer solitaire. It is one of the most difficult to make. My Grandmother picked the one with the four down the side, but with a modification that also made completing it harder.
This should tell you all you need to know about my Mother and Grandmother.
My Aunt adopted the four down the side version as well, but with standard rules. She also adopted a patented clap and double-armed hand flourish to signal when she had made it. All the kids would cheer wildly when she did this leading to two things:
A) She would make sure to call everyone at the table's attention with a very specific sounding, “Hey!” before performing it.
B) Every kid adopted the move as well.
There were many other versions, such as Clock, matching exercises, counting games, and King and Queen.  In addition, those variations aren’t counting the myriad rule modifications (no peek, extra cards, less cards, lost cards) that every child went through extended phases of coming up with ideas for.
Besides passing down solitaire rules, adults taught kids many group card games, Crazy Eights (and the subtle differences between it and Uno), Steal the Old Man’s Pack, Kings in the Corner and a few others.  My grandmother was banned from teaching us "Knuckles" when she started explaining how to angle the deck to make your opponent bleed.
There's a reason she was officially classified by a medical professional as a "Tough old broad from the Bronx."

There were, however, two card games that overwhelmed our youthful times up there, which seemed to spring fully formed from the Up the Lake children’s unconsciousness. I don’t remember anyone teaching us or where we learned them; just that they both had a summer that fully consumed us.
One game was Spit. It worked like high speed, competitive solitaire. Each player would lay out five piles in increasing size with the top cards face up, Aces Up fashion. Then, uttering the mystic phrase, “One, two, three SPIT,” each player would lay one card down in the center from their remaining pile- called, charmingly, “Spit Cards.” Following that, cards from the five piles would be put on the center two piles, one at a time, at mind numbing speed, and revealing cards below them by both players simultaneously, either ascending or descending.
Whoever cleared their five piles first took their choice of center stacks. Presumably, this should be the smaller one, but counting wasn’t allowed. There was some extended deck pressing, and laying one’s face on the tabletop to determine the proper choice in close games.
And they were all close games.
Only one-handed play was allowed, until someone ran out of Spit cards, then they could use two hands. This rule was to help keep the games from running forever in our evenly matched group.
Spit started as a relatively fast-paced game, but increased exponentially. One reason was: once a center pack was picked up, it was mostly in order from the previous hand.  The second, and scarier reason, was that more practice lead directly to faster play. The six of us in our age and location group (Nick, Skip, Chrissy, Patricia, Catherine and myself) played non-stop all summer.
This eventually cascaded into the Spit Championship of the Universe, held up at Johanna’s cabin in the late summer. I don’t remember what form of brackets or elimination method we used, or why Patricia and Cat earned “home field advantage.”  (The usual reason for staying in that cabin, the large number of "clear" alcohol types in the cabinet, did not apply this time as we needed clear heads for the competition.)
Honestly, I don’t remember almost anything that happened that entire evening.
What I do remember, was in the middle of a tortuously high-speed playoff round, my brain completely shorted out. Mid-game I let out a garbled squawk, put both hands on either side of my cards, mashed them into a single pile, and left the table.
Aside from teaching my daughter the game when she was too young to move at high speeds, I haven’t played it since.
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