I’ve taken to playing outdoor Scrabble games with my mom, who’s a spritely 91 and a bit of a troublemaker at The Villa. The slightly Christian part of me has as a mantra: “Okay, she’s old; let her win.” Truth be told, though, after the last couple of games I’m ashamed to admit my own cutthroat instincts have jumped right back.
We’re wearing masks and trying to sit six feet apart, tossing the letter bag back and forth across the playing board. And since I don’t lug a dictionary over to the retirement home, it’s hard to challenge Mom on words. The Holy Spirit (at least I think it’s Him) whispers to me: “Just let her have it.” But last week she innocently asked if “zee” was a word. I didn’t think so (turns out it is!), but acquiesced. She plopped the tiles down and I reluctantly gave her something like 24 points.
On the very next play, she wanted to add a single “S” to it. ‘Cause if “zee” is a word, well, then I suppose an English teacher could have 40 or 50 “zees.” Tragically, the “S” took the entire word onto a triple-word premium, and she racked up 62 more points. All at once the game was out of reach! I kept a smile on my face underneath the mask, but swore revenge all the way home.
This past weekend the literary piracy escalated. She peered at her seven letters. “Is ‘da’ a word?”
“Mom, that’s Russian!” I yelped. “Are we allowing foreign words now?” Several choice Thai epithets popped into my brain and I eyed my own rack of letters.
A few minutes later she drew a “y” and was anxious to put it in play. “How about ‘toey’? Is that a word?”
I gave my standard rejoinder. “Use it in a sentence.”
She thought hard. “Cousin Mildred was born with six toes on each foot. She’s very toey.”
Lord, help me here. She’s my mom. I don’t want to make a scene and fling all my letters in the grass.
The other thing that makes these games hard is that all her friends gather around to cheer . . . and never on my behalf. “You’ve got him on the ropes, Jean. Good one!” “Sure, ‘toey’ is a word!” One of them waved her cane menacingly and I visibly flinched.
So I lost a couple of Scrabble games. I comfort myself with this bit of reminiscing. Back in ’57 I was a two-year-old toddler still in diapers when the five Smiths boarded the Steel Admiral headed for Thailand. Six weeks in two crowded staterooms on a diesel freighter. Mom and Dad would play marching games and follow-the-leader with Danny and me on the deck of the ship, feed us supper, give us our baths, say prayers with us, and then tuck us away for the night, the waves of the Pacific Ocean a gentle lullaby.
Then she and Dad would get out the Scrabble game and have a nightly contest, enjoying the idyllic pleasure of a game with your very favorite person. With the rice paddies and the challenges of foreign mission service just over the watery horizon.
So okay, maybe Mom deserves to win a few games. After all, she’s kind of the queen.