Playing cards as family currency


One of the dynamics in the nuclear unit when I was growing up was playing cards as family currency. I learned canasta from my paternal grandmother, Agatha Walker Green before she died in 1964. Then, I taught it to my great-aunt, Deana Yates, before she died in 1966. She and I also played 500 rummy.

Shortly before Deana passed, my father taught me pinochle. A pinochle deck “consists of A (high), 10, K, Q, J, and 9 (low) in each of the four suits, with two of each card.” But one cannot play the game with two people.  You need at least three. This meant that my mother would play with my father and me.

This was cool because I enjoyed time with my parents without my sisters, who were not serious card players, while the three of us were. In describing this situation to a friend, they said they just liked to play for fun. I contended that playing seriously WAS the fun.

Interestingly, we played with a double pinochle deck with the 9s removed. We held 26 cards each, with two cards in the kitty. When I was 10, I could barely hold all of the cards, but I improved over time.


My grandfather, McKinley Green, and I played gin rummy. To this day, I remember that he said, “This hand is a foot,” when the cards didn’t come his way.  

My parents also played bid whist with family friends Jim and Betty at their house. I’d often go with my parents. My mom occasionally tired, and I’d be my dad’s partner.  Also, sometimes Jim would get angry when the game didn’t go his way, and his tantrums would upset my mother. This was understandable, though I found Jim’s antics more humorous than scary as his face reddened.

I don’t recall how often we played pinochle or whist. One of my sisters recalled my mother complaining to my dad about going out to play bid whist, “I like the game, but do we have to play every week?” While this was a bit of hyperbole, we did play a great deal until I graduated from high school. As I said, it was something I did with my parents that I did not have to share with my sisters.

My parents got married 74 years ago today. They were hitched until my dad died in August 2000.

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