The long, cold winter months usually meant some welcome nights of the only card game mom and dad played: whist.* Card parties were my folk’s way of enjoying an evening with friends…Eddie and Ione, Sanford and Valerie, Clifford and Eleanor, Cleve and Edith, Louie and Ad, Jean and Raymond, Jimmy and Violet, George and Linnea (just to name a few). No matter how cold it might be outside, a warm and friendly game of whist seemed to be one of the ways the neighborhood could have some fun. 

One of grandma’s card parties. Contributed photo

My dad usually wore a tie, and mom would put on her favorite dress. This was an evening out after all, even if it was in your own home, and it was a big deal. Judging by old photos, the gang had a swell time. I believe they usually had three tables of whist going. The kitchen was most likely “table #1”…at least it was in our house. 

Table #2 was the old, small, card-board-like “card table” that tall people had a hard time getting their legs under. Table #3 usually played host to the two bottom-scoring partners, and at our house anyway, it was in the bedroom (and a neighbor must have had to bring their own table, and possibly some chairs). Regardless of where you were sitting, or who your partner might be, it was a night of rambunctious fun and sportsman-like fellowship. 

The night was most likely capped off with the highest scoring team at table #1 winning a nice prize and the low-scoring team receiving an amusing gift. One thing was certain, no one went home hungry. A midnight lunch, hot out of the oven, was served before everyone headed home either up or down the county line. Most likely, everyone was home within minutes after leaving the host’s warm and toasty house.

I can still feel the excitement when it was mom and dad’s turn to host the card party. My sister and I would find a way to eavesdrop or “snoop” on grown-up fun. We would sneak behind a corner and sit huddled together on the floor, listening and giggling…assuming in our childlike minds that no one knew we were sitting there. As the evening grew late, mother would tuck us into bed, and we would lay there continuing to giggle until we fell fast asleep.

Card parties were a fun way for the neighborhood to get together. Contributed photo

It was good old fun times, those card parties. And it wasn’t too long before my sisters and my brother grew old enough to learn the game, too. I think I was around 10 years old when dad decided I was old enough. Not old enough for adult card parties, of course, but certainly old enough to learn the game. And let me tell you, dad did not show any mercy in the scheme of things because I was only 10 years old. He taught me first and foremost that in his eyes, whist was a serious game and in winning, you made no mistakes. At the very least, you were allowed mistakes AS you were learning.

Yikes. But I wanted to learn, so I buckled down to business. Dad taught me it was a fairly simple game, but strategy certainly made a winner. First I had to learn what constituted a “good hand.” In other words, could I take “tricks” by having a “strong suit” or should I “go low” because I didn’t have a good enough hand to take any tricks at all. If the hand was played low, you’d want to short-suit yourself as soon as possible. For sure, we didn’t want to take any tricks if we were playing low.

If anyone indicated that the hand was to be played “high,” that player supposedly knew he could take enough tricks to win the hand, along with the help of his or her partner. To “go high” seemed a bit more risky. Dad taught me that with the game of whist, as in life, taking a risk might be a bit scary, but, sometimes you have to go with your gut. If you’re going to take the risk, you can only depend on your partner for a small part of your success. And you can’t blame your partner for YOUR own choices. Hmmmm, sounds a lot like the game of life.

Strategy definitely depended on the hand you were dealt. Dad taught me about strong suits and weak suits, how to short-suit yourself and how to trump. He taught me the importance of counting what cards have been played and reason out what cards remained. That was quite a bit more tricky and definitely took a lot of practice.

It wasn’t long before dad and I became pretty strong whist partners, and we were pretty much unbeatable in our nuclear family. If we played whist, dad and I were partners. Automatically. 

It was either that we were pretty good together, or that no one wanted to be partners with dad. I’m thinking the second reason is a bit more resonant.  

Playing whist was a family tradition in our house. Contributed photo

Besides learning strong suits and the strategy of counting cards, in Whist you cannot show any emotion in the cards you are dealt. Well, that didn’t seem to be the case in our friendly family games. Every time we played, other family members thought dad and I had “signals.” Of course we didn’t, but I could sure read his face. Well, everyone in the world could read dad’s face during the game of Whist. If I made a wrong choice in a play he would purse his lips together tightly, gasp and inhale, and slowly whistle through those pursed lips with an expression of disdain. It really wasn’t a signal as much as it was an expression of pure horror. I’d gulp…and try not to make the same mistake twice, at least not in THAT hand. I guess each wrong play eventually helped me become a better player. I have dad to thank for that.  But THAT might have been the resounding reason why mom and none of my sisters, or my brother, ever wanted to be his partner. 

Even with mistakes though, we were pretty unbeatable. And we all really did have a lot of fun. I was a daddy’s girl, and he was my partner. As far as I was concerned, we were #1. 

Dad spent time, and a bushel of patience, in teaching me whist. A game I always thought came from Norwegian descent. A game that was part of the “qualifying test” for any new boy that wanted to date any of his daughters. In any event, I think he and mom had fun, whether it was a group of neighbors getting together for a card party or otherwise. An age-old game. Good old times. Whist. 

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whist. A standard 52-card pack is used. Whist is played by four players, who play in two partnerships with the partners sitting opposite each other. Players draw cards to determine dealer and partners, with the two highest playing against the lowest two, who have seating rights. To comment on the cards in any way is strictly against the rules. One may not comment upon the hand one was dealt nor about one’s good fortune or bad fortune in the cards they were dealt.