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How To Cheat At Cribbage - Remembering My Grampa And His Fabulous Gladioli
Some of my favorite childhood memories involve the every-other-summer household move, sometimes from one side of the country to the other, or into or out of the High Arctic.
As my father was in the Navy, these were either cross-country treks, from an armed forces base on one side of the country to our new posting on the other, or returning to "civilation" - back down south from an arctic posting.
The best part of these biennial odysseys was the two weeks we spent with each set of grandparents. My mother's parents lived on the West Coast, where I was born, but my father's parents still lived in Transcona, now part of Winnipeg, in Manitoba.
I have many fond remembrances of hot summer days at the beach, my Dad teaching us to swim. In those days, that seemed to be accomplished by moderated child self-drowning, or so it seemed to me until I got the hang of staying afloat under my own steam...but we loved every minute of it.
Those long summer days on the tan, hot sands of Lake Winnipeg are high on my favorites list - along with the crazy days at the C.N.E., when it came through in August. The C.N.E. was the Canadian National Exhibition, known in the west as the Pacific National Exhibition, and in Manitoba and Ontario as the Canadian... - our version of a giant State Fair.
In between those extra-special days, we spent our days mostly outside, making forts in the china-berry shrubs, terrorizing the goldfish in Grampa's pond, and being chased out of the garden.
My grandfather raised gladioli, and they stood like proudly colorful soldiers, rank on serried rank in the back section of his garden. He took the greatest care with these amazing flowers, hybridizing hues that are only now becoming available to the average grower.
I first learned about genetics from my grampa. He showed me the glass shelves lining the basement walls where he would tenderly store the dormant bulbs against their spring awakening. He explained how he bred them for color, hue, or conformation.
Then, each fall he would cull the bulbs, keeping only his best performers. He would dust them with fungicide and place them high on the shelves to protect them from any mouse foolish enough to venture in from the cold.
The special ones were segregated in paper bags with handwritten labels in spidery hieroglyphics denoting their lineage.
I was too young to appreciate his contribution at the time, but modern growers owe a debt of gratitude to his tenacity and breeding techniques.
He created some amazing color combinations, but always rejoiced the most over the bulbs that would breed true, that would come back year after year in all their glorious splendor.
I particularly recall one chocolate beauty with a ruby throat and gold fringing that he presented to my mother for a corsage.
She and Dad were on their way out for a well-deserved dinner a-deux, and with her lovely flower pinned on, we were all confident she would be the best accessorized woman in the supper club.
Grampa would sometimes while away the afternoon hours by trying to teach us to play cribbage. My sister and I were seven and five, respectively, and though we could both count and knew our numbers well into the hundreds mark, we were not yet facile in addition...so Grampa would keep score for us.
He showed to us how to shuffle and deal, he explained how the play should proceed, he explained how to 'peg' our way around the board, and he showed us how to count our hands.
My sister and I quickly mastered shuffling, dealing and the math behind pegging. It was some time, though, until we mastered the strategy behind which card to play.
The one big snag came when the hands and the crib were tallied up. I must admit we made rather heavy going of adding up the numbers.
The refrain of "fifteen-two, fifteen-four and a pair is six," became even more mysterious when he would quickly sift through our cards, rattle of our score, catch up the cards, shuffle ferociously, and deal out a new hand faster than I could add up the points in my head.
It wasn't until years later that I realized he was not giving a true accounting of the value of our cards. As a matter of fact, he was cheating like a crook.
My mother confirmed this to me many years after he had 'gone on', saying, "Oh, yes. If you couldn't count fast enough, or if you missed a point or two, Grampa could be quite a cut-throat."
She also told us, with a smile, that Grampa played in cribbage competitions, and always said he was, by his own estimation, a pretty fair crib player.
Our grandmother had set him the task of playing cards with us - her idea for keeping us entertained and out from underfoot in her kitchen while she was busy with her baking.
Only after she was done would he be allowed to escape back to his beloved flower garden.
I can only think that cheating added some extra spice to the game for him - seeing how long we would take to figure things out, when our math skills would improve enough for us to catch him.
Once we were proficient enough to count quickly, he never, ever cheated - that I ever caught him.
...but I'll let you in on one thing - thanks to my grampa, I can count my cards with the best of them, and I, too, am a pretty fair crib player.