Dad never wanted to learn how to play euchre. Whenever my sister, mom, and I wanted to play and needed a fourth partner, we’d ask him. But his answer was always the same, “I think I’ll watch the game instead.” I can’t say I blame him, or anyone else who doesn’t want to learn. It’s a confusing game. Sometimes a jack has more value than an ace and sometimes it’s just a jack. Sometimes the jack of another suit that isn’t even trump has a high rank. Sometimes dealers get screwed, sometimes players get dealt a farmer’s hand. Reneging is the greatest disgrace but cloud nine is a good place to be.
Euchre is a Midwestern game but I never thought of it like that. Grandma and Grandpa K. (Mom’s parents) taught me how to play and they lived in Florida so I didn’t associate the game with the Midwest. When I started college it was the first time I heard euchre referred to in that way. It clicked, though, because Grandma and Grandpa K. lived in Indiana and Ohio before retiring to Florida so of course they would know the game.
Grandma K. not only taught my sister and I how to play, but also all the “unwritten rules” of the game. Really, they were just superstitions she had and I don’t know where they originated, but to this day, the family still lives by them. For instance, the team that “sat with the bathtub” (was parallel to) would win. Of course, I don’t know how that works if there is more than one bathtub in the house, or none. The scoring cards always consist of a six and a four of the same suit. Often, Grandma would “sprout” points by having the tips of the hearts (or spades or whatever) show. She was also adamant about the four holding down the six. “You don’t want anything big to hold down something small, Liz,” she would tell me. Also, we were never, never to turn down a bower should it present itself when we dealt. It was ingrained so much in me that now, if I do turn one down, I feel guilty.
Usually, Grandma and Grandpa K. were around when I played euchre, because my friends didn’t know how and I didn’t know how to explain it (it still baffles me a bit to this day when trying to teach someone else). So, about twice a year, either when Grandma and Grandpa came up to Illinois to see us in the summer or when we went down to Florida for Christmas, I got to play euchre. I was impatient about it, too. Six months between game sessions was too long to wait! So, when dinner was done and the table was cleared, I would be back in my seat, cards shuffled and ready to be dealt. Impatiently, I would wait while Mom and Grandma did the dishes (“Why can’t they just leave them?” I thought to myself over and over). When it was finally time to play, we had to figure out who was going to sit out. Only four players are needed but there were five of us. Mostly, we rotated or there was someone who was too tired to play or had something else to do so it all worked out.
In 1998, Grandma and Grandpa K. celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They rented a house in the hills of Maggie Valley, North Carolina. My family and my cousins’ family were invited to come celebrate with them in the early days of August. It was a euchre-fest. There were 11 of us but since Dad never played, only 10 were in the tournament (there was no actual tournament; it was just game after game after game). We baffled at the bravado that Missy, the youngest at 11, showed when she made trump with only two cards of that suit in her hand. More often than not, and to the delight of her partner, she would win the hand.
Now Grandma is gone and Missy’s a year out of college. The family still plays when we get together but it’s not as often as I would like, as we’re spread across the country from the East to the Midwest to the South. But when one or more of us makes it to someone’s house, the cards are taken from their storage space, the deck separated then shuffled, and we sit down at the table to play a game. Every time I take my place at the start of the game, I mentally picture which way the bathtub lies to see if I’m sitting with it, and then I think of Grandma and how much I wish she were there.