She spies the box on the top of the shelf in “her” room (I call it the “Spare Oom,” kindred Narnians):

“What’s that game, Franna?”

“Oh, that’s Yahtzee. I used to play it all the time when I was growing up.”

“How do you play?”

Sounds like an invitation to me.

I reach past Spy Alley, Catchphrase, Trivial Pursuit, the chess set, and Twister (that game floored her. Really. Not just trying to be punny).

Dear old Yahtzee.

The dice rattle inside the box…and I remember…

Whole afternoons elapsing on the worn living room rug, sunlight waning behind the lace curtains, sometimes distant thunder beyond the rain-slapped windows, none of it mattering in the wide circle of lamplight where my sister and I hunched over the scorecards. The exultant cry or groan of despair, depending on whose throw landed all five dice on the same number. Yahtzee!

Evenings in my aunt’s spotless, light-dimmed, vanilla-scented den, legs criss-crossed, drinking Dr. Pepper in glasses with curiously-cylindrical ice cubes clinking (ice-makers were uncommon, then). The lovingly-fierce competition between my young aunt and uncle, their laughter, their encouragement: Good choice, Hon. Sometimes you just have to take it on Chance

The look of perplexity on kids’ faces at math camp when I bought out the box after a lesson on probability; their brows furrowing as they learned the terminology: three of a kind, four of a kind, full house, small straight, large straight; their faces soon glowing with new zeal; shouts of YESSSS! accompanying fist punches in the air…

Hours at the kitchen table, the warmth of butter-yellow walls, my mother blowing on the dice, sending my sister and me into giggles; we start blowing on our dice, too. Come on, sixes, come on, sixes…years later, as I leave the house for a date: my mother at the kitchen table with a friend from across the street, whose story I never fully knew, only that she’d suffered a mental breakdown and had been taken in by relatives. Her hands shake as she lights one of my mom’s Salems, blue eyes wide and a little too bright, a nervous smile flickering across her face as the dice roll in her favor. Swirls of white smoke heavy in the air, floating after me on the sound of my mother’s cackling laughter, hilarious in itself, uniquely uninhibited, ever-gleeful…

So much depends on the rolling of the dice, on the way you choose to take what comes.

I lay out the pencils and scorecards, scoop up the dice, place them in my granddaughter’s little cupped hands.

“All right, Baby. Let me show you how to play.”


The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 25, I am writing around a word beginning with letter y. 


Does anybody play, anymore?

They were everywhere when I was a child.

In fact, I was the champion of the jacks tournament in my fourth grade class.

I likely owe this feat to not being able to run at P.E. or recess because it triggered my asthma in those pre-inhaler days. Meaning that my mother would have to walk to the school (how many blocks? Six? Eight?) to bring me a dose of liquid Benadryl because my dad was at work and she didn’t drive. The Benadryl never helped, anyway. I’d just wheeze until the wheezing quit.

But jacks, you could play by yourself, which I did. A lot. I practiced. Because jacks competitions were SERIOUS.

I wanted to play before my hands were big enough to hold them all. I watched older kids in the neighborhood and studied the moves.

Toss the jacks wide for onesies, twosies, and threesies, on up to fivesies or so.

Be careful around the sevensies to tensies; you have to be able to sweep them up in time.

If you touch a jack when you’re not supposed to, or if you drop one, you lose your turn and maybe the whole game.

Double bounce makes this so much easier.

No bounce, so much harder.

Speaking of which: Get rid of that pink rubber ball, or worse, the spongy plastic-coated one that cracks. Get a Super Ball, translucent with glitter flecks, or one that looks like it has a long squirt of rainbow toothpaste snaked inside. These things BOUNCE.

And oh, all those fun variations of the game… Cherry Picker, Pigs in a Blanket, Around the World…I knew them all, spent hours and hours immersed in finding a way to be a little faster, a little more artful, a little more flexible with the wrist and arm. There’s a symmetry and grace to jacks, there is.

Plus they’re really fun to spin like tiny tops.

Which my granddaughter loves to do.

That’s right, Child. Keep spinning and spinning, while we wait for your little hands to grow…


The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 10, I am writing around a word beginning with letter j. Just think, I might have chosen ‘jump’…I could have included a clip to the Van Halen song while revisiting my playground games of jump rope…but I can’t remember all the chants.