No Peekie. Gunga Din. Black Mariah High, Aces Low. Black Mariah Low, Aces High. These were the words that filled our Saturday night at the cabin last week. These were the words of a poker game, a game I identify more with the cabin and my grandparents than I do with Vegas.
When the day ended, my grandfather or one of the other men would fire up the generator. The hum of its engine was the background music to our evenings and to this day I can hear it in my mind as clearly as I can hear the sound of my fingers on the keyboard typing this sentence.
When the lights came on it signaled that the men were finished working or ending their game of horseshoes. It was time to gather in my grandparent’s end of the cabin for dinner.
There were usually too many of us to fit at the table at one time so we’d eat in shifts: kids first, followed by moms, aunts, and grandmothers and then finally the men.
Once everyone had been fed, the table cleared and the dishes washed, someone would get out the cards and poker chips.
I learned to play poker standing behind the shoulder of my grandfather and his brothers, every now and then getting to throw the chip into the pot.
When it was my grandfather’s turn to deal he’d play Blackjack every time, my aunt reminded me last week. I don't remember that, but I remember the sounds of thrown chips landing in the pot and cards being shuffled. I remember the joy of being handed a dollar when someone won a hand. I remember the deep pleasure of being able to play a hand when someone got up to refill their beer glass or use the bathroom.
They played for money, but that was beside the point as evidenced by the old coffee cans filled with poker money on the shelf, which could be dipped into anytime. Poker was the way to gather everyone in one place and spend the night in the company of family, the engine that fueled the preservation of the place.