When it came to card games, Father knew best

When it came to card games, Father knew best

Bridge originated early in the 16th century, which means that by the time I became aware of it, I was 450 years late to the party.

That didn’t prevent me from asking Dad if he’d teach me to play.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start at the beginning.

My parents didn’t do a lot of socializing, but what little they did frequently involved Bridge. My earliest recollections have little or nothing to do with the game itself, its rules or its nomenclature.

Instead, I remember the preparations my parents made when it was their turn to host to the Bridge Club. They laid in all manner of snacks and libations, Mom whipping up what we kids came to call “Dorothy Dip” as my father set up the bar and crushed the ice.

There was a sense of anticipatory expectancy in air, a feeling that superseded visits by relatives or sleepovers with our friends. My parents bustled about for hours before the arrival of the first guests, dusting and cleaning, arranging magazines just so, turning the seldom-used living room into something out of “House Beautiful.”

They were of the belief that children were best seen and never heard, so after perfunctory greetings, we retreated downstairs to watch TV or, more often, upstairs to our bedrooms, out of sight.

But that didn’t mean we were unaware of the sensory overload — the scent of perfume and after-shave, the aroma of pipe tobacco, the convivial chatter, the sound of ice clinking in cocktail glasses.

Sometimes, I’d head down to the kitchen for a bottle of Choc-Ola, and I’d hear words like “dummy” and “no trump” and “rubber” and “overtrick” and “singleton,” marveling at their secret argot.

In the years to come, after playing simple childhood card games like War and Go Fish, I became exposed to Hearts, Spades, Poker and 500 Rummy, all of which afforded chances not only to win a bit of cash money, but also opportunities to hang out with my friends.

There also was something called Boo Ray, which was so popular among the guys who worked at the parks and rec department that I had no choice but to learn the rules. Sadly, the passage of time has eroded any specific memory of how to play, but the years will never erase the spirit of camaraderie the game engendered.

That was summer 1975, an expanse of days and nights that saw me engaged in my first serious girlfriend experience and also included the first and only time I’d ever see the Rolling Stones live.

It was the summer of 39 as well, as in the number of consecutive shifts the boss would growl at the outset of the afternoon session, “Dewey, grab a push mower.” Thirty-nine straight times it happened, a record I’m pretty sure still stands back home.

I didn’t mind, though. I’d be dropped off, just after our lunch-break Boo Ray game, and work through the hottest hours of the day, just me, a lawn mower, a can of gasoline and the sweet promise of seeing my girlfriend later that evening. Ah, those dreams of youth.

A few years after that, following college, I fell in with another crowd of fellow employees, this time at my hometown newspaper, and was introduced to a game called Euchre. It was predicated on a sort of sixth-sense relationship with your partner, one that — when operating at full power — enabled serious runs of very good luck.

As you might imagine, though, accusations of “table talk,” a rather polite term for pernicious cheating, were more than a common occurrence, which simply added to the allure of the game itself.

My relationship with Euchre lasted for more than a decade, and it cemented in my mind the importance of a good partner. There was something quite thrilling about ordering him up — that is, making trump before he had a chance to declare his best suit — and using that ESP to take all five tricks, earning two points in the process.

I knew from my childhood that, maybe more than anything else, Bridge was built on a similar foundation, one that required a reliable symbiosis between partners, so I thought I was ready to learn the game. I was, after all, in my early 40s, no longer a child.

So I called my father.

“Hey, Dad,” I said. “I have a question, well, a request, for you.”

“What’s that?” he said. “What do you need?”

“Would you be willing to teach me how to play Bridge?” I asked.

“No,” was all he said and promptly hung up.

Before you jump to any rash conclusions as we approach Father’s Day, let me stress he was a remarkable man, a soldier and a scholar, a thinker and a tinker, a craftsman and a caregiver. But he’d known me from games around the kitchen table, everything from Jeopardy to Trivial Pursuit, Tripoley to art quizzes, so he was familiar with what might be called my rather mercurial temper.

In his mind he probably pictured a fit of my pique poleaxing an otherwise civilized gathering of unsuspecting guests, creating chaos where before had been a genteel game of bids and points.

So I never learned to play Bridge, and even though I suspect I’d have been pretty good at it, it’s probably for the best I didn’t.