The Wilson boys: Darren, Rick, Scott, Dad Ken at Scott's wedding, 2008
Not long ago somebody asked me what I missed most about Ken. Well, this gray March late afternoon I'd like to knock off working early, and play a game of gin. My late husband was a great one for games. And fun.
I’d just started junior high when some scowling soul first told me that marriage wasn’t all fun and games.I can’t remember who it was…it could have been Aunt Violet, whose husband rarely drew a sober breath, or my home economics teacher who claimed she'd never met a man worth wasting her time on.
Mostly I remember the bitter tone of voice, the implication that marriage wasn’t all about happily-ever-after. It sounded grim indeed. At fourteen, I wondered why people kept officially pairing up if marriage were so burdensome.
In subsequent decades I bet I’ve heard this bad news at least a thousand times. It’s a dull mantra indeed, guaranteed to dampen enthusiasm for any anticipated connubial bliss. In fact, just now when I typed “marriage isn’t all fun and games” into Google, I got nearly three thousand “results.” I scanned some of the references. Wow. It sure looks like lots of people believe that marriage can make you poorer, sadder…even fatter. If I click on some of these articles, I read that marriage is tough, hard work, chock full of painful choices, treacherous compromises, and heartbreaking disagreements.
My late husband, Ken, wouldn’t have bought it for one minute. A poker dealer and card room manager, Ken loved nothing more than sitting down to shuffle a deck. He made it clear at the onset of our relationship that he expected nothing less in our marriage than fun and games. Especially games.
“You’re going to have to learn to play some board games, and cards,” he’d said, showing me the shelf where he kept his dominoes, poker chips and a dozen board games, including Trivial Pursuit, Balderdash and Tripoly.
“I learned Chinese checkers as a kid,” I responded, “and I’m pretty good at hearts. I used to play cribbage. I don’t know how to play Texas Hold’em.”
“I’ll teach you,” he promised. Unfortunately, my lessons didn’t go well. There was something about those community cards out in the middle of the table that felt alien to me. I wanted cards that I could clasp close to my chest. And I didn’t understand the terminology…all about flops, turns and rivers.
“Could we try something else?” I asked one evening. “I can’t get the hang of bluffing, and I’m no good at betting the odds.”
Ken believed flexibility added to the fun of life. “Well, let’s try gin. We’ll play for a penny a point and settle up at the end of each month.”
I learned the rules quickly. I loved everything about the game and appreciated even the words involved…runs, sequences and sets all sounded musical to me. So for years at least two or three nights a week we’d settle down for a gin game or two. Ken tolerated my poor shuffling skills. I pretended not to notice how he’d smirk as he toted up his monthly winnings.
Then things shifted. I began to win a few games. Ken had become accustomed to pocketing a few dollars at the close of each month. Now it was more like a few cents.
Then one month I won, and it was my turn to smirk as I tucked away a couple of bills.
We continued to play, more evenly matched, until Ken’s final battle with cancer brought our evening games to a close.
In the nearly three years since my husband died, I frequently think of our decade together. Sure, there were difficult days, mostly related to his failing health. But even in his final weeks, Ken found something to joke about, something to enjoy. He maintained his sunny outlook nearly to the end.
Not fun and games? I don’t agree. Here’s some reasons why. For me, married life meant having somebody I loved who would:
- Brag about me on the phone to his friends, no matter how minor my accomplishments.
- Cook me special suppers of Swedish meatballs.
- Escort me to weddings and parties, impeccably attired.
- Leave love notes and teddy bears on the kitchen counter or the front seat of my car, and not just on Valentine’s Day or my birthday.
- Inquire where we should go on vacation next summer and agree with whatever I suggested, so long as we could get there in fewer than a dozen hours.
- Insist I put away the dust cloth and settle down to watch reruns of “Gunsmoke.”
- Mix me a perfect Manhattan, garnished with two cherries.
- Read me our daily horoscopes and lucky numbers.
- Email me a joke each morning so I could start my day with a smile.
- Wink at me across the table and chortle, “gin.”