Five-Hundred Rummy

Mama was a sore loser—when she lost at cards—especially when she played against Papa.  Their differences were settled by a match.  Papa’s favorite was with a deck of cards and Mama was by staring.

Mama never lost a staring match.  We boys and Papa were no match for Mama.  As soon as she saw a little twitch at the corner of your mouth she knew that you were on the ropes and it would soon be over.  At that moment she intensified her stare and we would burst out laughing.  Her comment was, “You see, G-d knows that I am right,” and that settled the issue.

When it came to Papa’s game, 500 Rummy, it was another matter.  Papa had a phenomenal memory.  Not only did he play the odds, but he also remembered every card that was discarded.  He held his melds in his hand until the very last moment.  This was very frustrating to Mama who really loved the game and hated to lose.

If they each won at their specialty, it would seem that the decision was predestined and that there would not be a need for the contest.  On the contrary, this winning/losing test was an important part of their marriage.  This was somewhat like a courting ritual where the winner takes all.

So the only thing left was to decide whether it was by cards or by staring.  It would seem that it would be a waste of time to go ahead with the event when the decision was made.  On the contrary, both Mama and Papa went into battle as if they fully intended to win—this time—and they gave it their best shot.  However, to us boys there was no doubt as to the outcome.

Before each contest one of them would say, “The last time we settled it your way, now it’s my turn.” While this sounded fair and reasonable, the other would not give in without a litmus test.  It always was cutting the deck to see who had the higher card. 

Since Papa was better at cards it would seem that Mama would not accept this form of dueling, but it proved to be fair over the long run.

Today, whenever I read about the Indy 500 or any of the major athletic events like the Baseball World Series, Football Super Bowl or the rush of Basketball’s March Madness it reminds me how Mama and Papa chose the winner.

I wish my Sally and I were able to settle our rare, irreconcilable differences with so much zest and fun as Mama and Papa did.