One of the story arcs on a recent episode of Modern Family had Jay finding out, years after the fact, that his hole-in-one on the local golf course, a feat of which he was enormously proud, had received a little help from his then 14-year-old son. Naturally, he was quite upset with this revelation, and I was reminded of my mother's perfect bridge hand.
When I was growing up in Houston in the 70's, my parents belonged to a neighborhood bridge club. The ladies played most Wednesday nights and once a month, it was someone's turn to host "big bridge" for everyone. Big bridge was a Saturday night blowout consisting of six or seven tables, depending on attendance, and lots of food and booze.
I know nothing about the game. My father tried to teach me one time, but my brain proved impermeable to his patient explanations of tricks and trumps. I Googled "perfect bridge hand" (when in doubt, Google), and for once, the search engine failed me. A couple of sites were full of mathematical formulas for determining probability, and I am someone who is in over her head on long division. Another site said a perfect hand produces 13 tricks, while still another said 7 no trump. Most sites claimed a truly perfect hand is considered to be all 13 spades, but the odds of getting this is one in over 635 billion. Someone calculated that if 10 million players dealt 20 hands everyday, it would take 8 years, 8 months and 1 week to produce a random deal of 13 spades. That someone sure has a lot of time on their hands, pun intended. My mother's hand, as best as I can remember, had all the aces, kings, queens and one jack.
Mom, when she realized what she was holding, couldn't contain her excitement and jumped up, showing her cards to everyone in the room. At the end of the night, the hostess gave her the deck from which her perfect hand had been dealt. A couple of weeks later, that perfect hand was perfectly fanned and mounted on moss green velvet and perfectly framed in a shadow box with a small brass plaque. The plaque had my mother's name perfectly engraved along with the date. She proudly hung the shadow box in the den where people couldn't help but see it and comment on it. Years later, when we moved my parents to the Dallas area in 2006, the little shadow box came with them and was given a place of honor in their new apartment.
2008 was a milestone year. My parents' 60th anniversary was in May, my dad's 90th birthday in June. (It was also the year I turned 50, but that is beside the point.) Since my father's health was poor and he was "up there", I made plans to throw a family reunion and invited all the in-laws and out-laws and kissin' cousins to Texas to celebrate these dual achievements. I purposely did not invite their many friends because I wanted to keep the focus on family, and also because I didn't want to overwhelm my parents with too many people. Still, it was important to include them somehow and so, I decided I would make a memory book. I emailed and snail mailed as many people as I could think of, requesting cards, photographs, and letters from friends, neighbors and my father's closest business associates. Most people were generous with the reminisces and copies of old photos, and it was quite a trip reading them and looking at the pictures. It was quite another trip trying my hand at scrapbooking; I suck at anything that smacks of arts and crafts.
One of the old Houston neighbors I tracked down, Ron, typed up a really nice letter that ran for several pages and included a bombshell. He prefaced this bombshell by saying he had a confession to make, something that had been bothering him for years. Don't ask me how or why, but my mind immediately flashed to that little shadow box on the wall and I knew, before I even read what he had to say, that the bridge hand nestled on the moss green velvet wasn't so perfect after all.
It seems that Ron and another man in that long ago club, Tony, hatched a scheme to deal my mother, who was playing at their table, a perfect hand. During a lull in play (meaning a run on the bar), the two of them doctored the deck in such a way that every card dealt to my mother was an honor card (ace, king, queen or jack). Even the customary cut that's supposed to cancel out cheating didn't mess up the sequence. They only meant it as a silly joke; they thought they'd have a quick laugh, 'fess up like a couple of misbehaving schoolboys, and move on. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, the joke got away from them. They didn't count on my mother immediately jumping up and showing off her prize to everyone in the room, they hadn't counted on her being so excited and so happy. They just didn't have the heart to tell her the truth and bust her bubble.
I was faced with a dilemma. Do I doctor the letter, much as Ron and Tony doctored the deck all those years ago, and remove all references to the joke? It would have been very easy to do. Or do I leave it as is? I shimmied back and forth on this for a couple of days and finally decided that, no, it wasn't my place to edit the letter and besides, it was so many years ago, what was the harm in it? As it turned out, I woefully miscalculated my mother's emotional investment in that now tainted bridge hand.
As far as I was concerned, the "confession" just made for a richer back story and I said as much, but my parents weren't buying it. My father, always fiercely protective of his two girls, didn't like his wife being the butt of a practical joke. He used a few choice words, "jackasses" being quite prominent. He said he always wondered how legitimate the deal had been, especially with Ron and Tony at the table that night. But, like Ron and Tony, when faced with my mother's happiness, he didn't want to ruin it for her, either, despite his misgivings. In some ways, that made my father a player in their conspiracy.
For her part, I suspect my mother felt she had been played for a fool and that everyone in the club had been yukking it up behind her back for years. She was so upset, she threw the shadow box in the trash. Unfortunately, I didn't find out about this until it was too late to save it, or I would have gladly found a place for it in my home.
Hindsight being 20/20, if I could do it over again, I would let stacked decks lie.
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