The Grandmas’ Forever Canasta Game

25 Jan

Every day, unless it was raining, the grandmas at our bungalow colony at Kauneonga Lake played canasta. They had a special blue, wooden table that was designated for them.  No one else ever sat there.  We knew that at some point during the day, the grandmas would wander over and a game would begin.

It was such a peaceful setting.  Cool breezes, shade from trees, people enjoying the nice weather…and the grandmas and their canasta game.

Grandma Esther, my father’s mother, always played with her sister, my Great- Aunt Minnie, as her partner.  My mother’s mother, Grandma Thelma, partnered with her best friend:  Nana was my friend Vicki’s grandma.  Grandma Rose, my cousins’ grandma, she sat nearby to be part of the conversation.  I do not remember Grandma Rose playing canasta, but she was always there.

The games were intense.  Often my grandmothers would yell at each other or at their partners.  God forbid if the wrong card was thrown, or if a canasta was not made, then the yelling commenced.

“How could you throw that card?  Weren’t you paying attention?” One of them would comment.  Often there would be a sigh of disgust.  I sometimes wondered if my grandmothers would ever speak to each other again!  But after a cooling off period, they always did.  However, I think sometimes Grandma Esther and Aunt Minnie would stay angry a little longer.

There would be silence as the tension in the game increased. But when the game ended, the yelling would start up again.  “How could you do that?” Someone would say.  None of these grandmas liked to lose.  I learned to stay away near the end of a game.

For me there was an extra tension.  When I would walk over to ask a question, I had to be careful to make sure I treated each grandma equally.  If I said good morning first to Grandma Esther, I made sure the next day, I said hello first to Grandma Thelma.  A hug and a kiss were always expected.  They always sat catty corner to each other, so it was a simple matter to hug one and then the other.

“Good morning Grandma. Love you!”  I would say, then turn to the other one. “Good morning Grandma. Love you, too!” Then Aunt Minnie, Nana and Grandma Rose each got their hug and good morning. It was an expected routine.

I learned canasta by sitting between my grandmas and watching them play.  I learned very early in my life not to say anything.  When you are watching two people playing against each other, it is not a good idea to reveal anything about the cards in their hands.  You do it one time and never again! I learned how to keep a ‘poker’ face.  If I had a question about a card thrown, or why something happened, I would tap the grandma and whisper in her ear.  There was definite pressure not to give anything away!

Occasionally one of them would let me hold the cards and play.   My grandma would sit behind me to help with the hand.  That was great fun and made me feel very grown up.  I was playing canasta!  My friend, Vicki, would come and watch sometimes as well.

When it was windy, all the children would start running to find pebbles to place on the cards so they would not blow away during an important game.  There was a gravel road that led to the parking area.  We would run as fast as we could to the road to get the right size pebbles.  Not too big that they covered the numbers, but not too small that they did not hold down the cards!

My grandfather would complain that he had to get more gravel each year to make up for the canasta playing stones.

If it got too windy, we would run over to the game to help gather the cards and bring them inside.  We tried as hard as we could to keep the cards in the right order so the game could continue.

I cannot imagine how many hours they played cards each summer.  And I also cannot imagine a summer without the grandmas playing canasta.  The games seemed to last forever, as do the memories.  In my mind I see them sitting in the sunshine playing canasta forever.

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