Thanksgiving Thanksgaming

Vacations take on a predictable rhythm when you work in a school. If you are on the teaching calendar, those intermittent breaks in the all consuming flurry of busy classrooms are like the eye of the hurricane. School months begin with a fervor in August and September, then grind like a granite stone pulverizing wheat in October. Some lucky teachers might get a fall break of some sort, but by November, all teachers are tired. Many are ill.

Over Thanksgiving I appreciate the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate. I made sure my major assignments were complete. I was almost healthy going in to the break; that awful virus that ravaged my entire school continues to hold on.

Nonetheless, I almost always enjoy Thanksgiving. One of my favorite things about this time of year is games. Actually, playing games over a break is a big part of a successful recharge for me.

I grew up in a bridge family. My grandparents, who lived next-door, were weekly players. They sometimes had 8 people playing. My mother was happy to jump in but my dad, less likely. My brother and I were responsible for refilling the peanuts and emptying the ashtrays at the corners of the tables. There were always lots of funny stories to overhear shared by intimate family friends. The atmosphere was charming and fun to be around. A bridge day was usually fun.

While the adults played the afternoon away, we were mostly expected to stay out from underfoot and to not interrupt too often. Grandma and Grandpa had this amazing drawer full of candy and a seemingly endless supply of Dr. Pepper and Squirt. We were perfectly content occasionally pilfering peanuts and mostly retreating to the front hallway where we played our games and ate candy. (Maybe this is why bridge days were fun.)

I never learned to play bridge but I did play cribbage, backgammon, and dominoes. Sometimes while the adults played, we would just build big mazes and flimsy structures out of cards. Their cream carpet had enough texture to hold a foundation to really sink a card in. And there was an entire drawer full of decks of cards. Our creations were expansive.

Dominoes were played to 500 or 1000. We had more fun counting than we did knocking them over. I remember playing with tangrams and recently, I was reminded of a game called Emergency! that I played with almost every time I visited. It was this awesome game, based on a goofy t.v. show, where competing Emergency responders saved people around the city.

More recently, my gaming has evolved. I’m adept with an xbox controller. I can Sonic Race with the best. My favorite relaxing mindless pursuits are Angry Birds and Lego games. I love knocking over ugly pigs and smashing things to get millions of shiny coins.

My favorites are not video games, however. I am a board game lover. It is a welcome challenge to give my 8 year old the experience of playing games that don’t require a screen. Some days it’s difficult to convince him to disconnect in order to connect. But it is always worth the effort….unless we play Monopoly….which he always wins in demoralizing fashion.

Our favorite classic games at home are backgammon, chess,  Battleship, Connect 4, Trouble, and Scrabble. They all get played at least once over a holiday break. Our favorite esoteric games are King of Tokyo and and the Mad Magazine game (which is actually ridiculously fun). The most unusual game we own happens to be…the Tick. Based on the beloved cult classic animated show, it is the most confusing game I ever tried to play. We’ve moved it between four houses, even though we never play. I can’t bear to part with it because it is so weird and colorful!

Of course, we also try to play outside games over the holidays, when the weather allows. Recently we’ve enjoyed tennis, frisbee, and football. Unfortunately, we decided yesterday the conditions were poor for kite flying, as the gusts were unpredictable. They would have torn our bat kite apart.

Typically, my brother and I play cribbage whenever we see each other. A couple of times per year I teach a student to play cribbage, in hope of keeping the game alive. I hear it is very popular in parts of the world beyond the United States, but I rarely run into other people who play. I learned to play when I was 4 years old. My grandmother taught me, like she taught my father, and my brother. I learned to count playing cribbage and it is inexorably tied to memories of my grandparents.

As we come in to Thanksgiving, I’m really looking forward to even more games with my family. And the best part is that the Winter Break is right around the corner. Happily, this means all the puzzles in the house can be assembled soon, because the big table will be unavailable this Thursday for puzzles.