Grandma Betty had the best dice karma. If she had been in better health, we could’ve taken her to Vegas. Her face would light up when she rolled a Yahtzee. We played the whole score sheet at once, not just one column at a time, and she always kept a couple Yahtzee spaces open until the end. She’d scratch out a large straight or four of a kind before she’d scratch her Yahtzee.
I learned Yahtzee lingo from Grandma. “Both ends open,” she’d say when she rolled a two, three, four and five. She’d shake the last two die and say “one or a six,” and try for the large straight. “I didn’t make my top,” she muttered, disgusted, when she didn’t have a high enough score to get the 35-point bonus.
From years of playing, I must’ve memorized the totals of almost every dice combination. To this day, I can add them up in a glance, much faster than I can add a list of numbers.
Grandma Betty and I spent many hot, summer days indoors playing games. It started with War because that’s an easy card game for kids to understand. It’s also a very long card game, so she sometimes let me take the trick even if my card was lower than hers so I would win the game faster. We also played lots of Go Fish, Old Maid and Rummy – Gin and 500. Eventually Grandma taught me to play solitaire so she could have a break.
Later, I learned to play Hearts, Spades and Euchre (pronounced “yook-er”). If you’re not sure what Euchre is, ask anyone from the Midwest or Canada. I miss that game. There’s no Euchre in California.
I inherited my love for word games from Grandma Betty. We spent hours at the table playing Boggle. She and her extensive vocabulary always won, although I’m pretty sure she made up words. She’d come up with some crazy word and tell me it was a term from the 1940’s. (“Igret,” Grandma? Really?) But I always believed her. We played so intently, we could almost hear the sand falling in the hourglass. Sometimes we’d get so caught up in the puzzle, we wouldn’t notice the time had run out.
But it wasn’t always fun and games. Grandma Betty was my rock, consoling me when my parents fought. In her big arms, I found safety and comfort. When they finally split up and the world fell apart, she was my one constant. I could take off the game face and stop pretending to be strong. With her unwavering patience and fierce love for her family, she was strong enough for everyone.
The divorce wasn’t final yet when Grandma Betty passed away, but most of the ugliness was over. I think she knew we would all be okay and could let go. I had just turned fifteen and was with her when the heart monitor emitted that ominous tone and the line went flat. I wasn’t done needing her yet, but I had to let go, too.
A few weeks ago, my mother gave me a beautiful gift – a scrapbook of songs that Grandma Betty used to sing. The memories came rushing back, and now I sing all those songs to my baby son. When he’s older, I’ll teach him to play all Grandma Betty’s games. We’ll play the whole Yahtzee score sheet at once, and I’ll probably let him win at War. I might even make up my own Boggle words and see if he calls me on it.