Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Life, Twisted Trees and Dead Monkeys Get a Clue

The holidays remind me of games. Usually board games, though Dad did initiate a game of charades now and then. He always did the same old thing-twine his arms above his head, wrap his legs around each other, and while trying not to tip over, say, "What am I kids? Well, what am I?"

A twisted tree of course. I've shown my kids that and asked them the same question, "What am I? Can you guess? You'll never guess; Paca taught me this..." They weren't too impressed. But, then again, no one makes a twisted tree like Paca.

One Thanksgiving Mom and Dad bought The Game of Life. We played all day after our meal. Several times, actually, which isn't such a small feat with a game which my husband refuses to play with his own kids (its potential frustration level for the parent is bright red, you see, and he won't play any with a child-parent frustration quotient above a milky yellow). Still, I remember that Thanksgiving of "Life" very fondly. And I personally felt honored to be included in such a complicated game, being the baby of the family.

Nate was excellent at games, and the spark of competition never burned so brightly in anyone's eyes as when my brother was trying to beat his own family at a board game. He started winning at Monopoly when he was eight. That was pretty suspicious, mind you. And Mom and Dad did call him out for cheating once that I remember. But I bet you at least half the time he played square.

Nate and I also went through a card-playing stage where we had an absolute love and devotion for Uno. When we got tired of playing it, we started making up our own versions of the original with complicated variations. But for some reason we gave them names like Native American Uno, Chinese Uno, etc. I don't know why we did that-unless we were trying to make the game more culturally inclusive.

The game I remember the most, however, was one which Dad, Nate, Mom and I invented. On one of the last Christmases Nate was still at home before he left for the military, we contrived a game similar to Clue. We drew out the floor plan of a large manor on a big piece of poster board with far more rooms than that traditional game ever had. Dad used a ruler to draw the rooms and line up the spaces. We meticulously worked on it all day, carefully coloring in the details of the game board and assigning spaces for lost turns and "enter room free" squares. Nate drew corpses in a few of the rooms. (Never mind that they looked more like deranged monkeys and squashed spiders; it was the spirit of the thing.) Finally, we used a deck of cards for our list of weapons, rooms and suspects by writing on the thin labels meant for cassette tapes and affixing them to the cards.The face cards were our suspects, and since Nate and I were complete X-Files fanatics at that time, our suspects were Fox Moulder, Dana Scully, Cancer Man, and such. When we ran out of names we wanted to use from that show, we fixed labels on the cards that read Dad, Nate, Mom, Hillary.

We made the game hard; we wanted it to be a challenging and lengthy game with no quick resolution. It had a lot more spaces, first of all, and some of those spaces gave you sometimes helpful but usually thwarting directions. But once you were ready, feeling smug in your conclusions, it was also hard to look at your family, make a guess and say in all seriousness, "It was you, Mom, with the wrench-in the rooftop observatory. You slew the deranged monkey!" It was worse if your guess was wrong.

My kids like to play games. I have used Uno for all three of my eldest to teach them their colors. And I have great memories already of sitting down to play various games with them. When Berto was four and five, he used to beat me and his Papa at Sorry! regularly. We used to say the Sorry! Leprechauns were with him, aiding him to defeat us. When Ana began playing Uno, every time she laid down a card she'd point a finger and yell out, "Uno...I got you!" And Ella beat her school-age siblings at Memory when she was just two and a half.

Holidays were made for games, in my opinion-games of all sorts that can bring a family together over a table to laugh and share friendly competition. This Thanksgiving I'll draw out a few of our many game boards; I might even convince Matthew to play Life or perhaps Clue (possible frustration level for parent: dark orange).

To all a Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Happy Thanksgiving to the Ibarra Family - one of my very favorites; and thanks, Hillary, for keeping me entertained.
    Love, Paca

  2. Nate has always been very competitive. He is the only person who can make my competitive side come out. To date, Nate has never beaten me at Battleship. He kept trying and finally refused to ever play the game with me again. Ahh...such fond memories! ;)


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