Friday, June 25, 2010

Most Ruthless Card Game? Bird is the Word.

American history and mythology are full of stories about deadly Wild West poker games, where one slight facial tic can cause a player's head to be blown off by another player's six shooter. But poker is for sissy fancy-pants compared to a card game that soaked up a lot of time in our little corner of Tennessee: Rook.

Rook was the only card game we could play in our house. "Face cards," or gamblin' cards, were forbidden in many good Bible Belt homes, but Rook cards were fine, since they didn't hold the whiff of tainted money, whiskey, cigars, and low-life wimmin. In fact, that's why Rook ("Christian cards") was invented by Parker Brothers around the turn of the last century. But I'm here to tell you that wild, fanatical rivalries can shake a house, even without tainted money and the like.

The game was big - powerful big - up at Grandmother and Granddaddy Rob's farmhouse in Henrietta, Tennessee. Now, my daddy's side of the family was always calmer and more in control of their emotions than my mother's whacky Atlanta Bully Bartow clan. The Nashville/Henrietta crowd was so nice and peaceful and took things in a calm, cool manner. Except when the Rook cards came out. Yep, once that deck of Rook cards was pulled out after supper, well, just be prepared for a competitive evening like no other. The calm, cool, collected crowd became excitable, overly-competitive Incredible Hulks.

Rook was serious bidness. No fooling around. Funny that, since I don't recall money, property, or whisky being involved. Guess it was just pure-T farmboy competition. Even as a little, little kid, I knew not to make light of the Rook game in progress. But my crazy Atlanta mama never got the message. It's a wonder she made it out alive, truly, because she was in it for fun and silliness - the direct opposite of what everybody else was in it for. Nobody wanted to partner with her. She was famous for letting rip a "Caw! Caw!" every time she drew the valuable Rook-bird card. Yes. It is a wonder she made it out alive.

I like Rook. It's easy to learn and fun to play. I like the memories of watching the game played at the farm in Henrietta, knowing I was witnessing a sort of cultural touchstone. I think I have a deck somewhere.

Poker? Pah! Pull out those Rook cards, hang on to your 14s, and pray you draw Mr. Caw-Caw!


Anonymous said...

Guess I wasn't much into the Rook games. I just remember the marathon Monopoly games with Uncle Harold, David, Cousin Jack and me. We would play for days on end. What a great time we had and no one ever got angry. We even lent each other money so we could keep playing.
I remember old guys sitting around the "store" playing checkers or sitting on each others front porch playing checkers sometimes using bottle caps as the checkers. Good old slow times. Good hearted people. I miss 'em.

Joy Des Jardins said...

I'm such a huge card and game player Mary; but I never really played Rook. From reading your post...I know I'd love it. Maybe I should introduce it into our poker nights with my daughter, her boyfriend, and my son and see how it goes over. Have a great 4th of July coming up sweetie... ~Joy xo

MaryB said...

Bro - I remember the marathon Monopoly games, too, but those were just the kids playing (except for Harold). Watching the adults get into Rook was more entertaining (especially waiting to see if Mother had the Rook). There was never any anger - but a whole lot of competition.

Joy - Rook is fun, just a suit game really. Give it a try. And Happy 4th to you, too!