Cliquish or Clannish? It’s the Game That Counts

I recently overheard someone say he was on his way to a weekly poker game. I was somewhat surprised that people still engaged in that pastime even though it was a popular diversion when I was growing up - at least for members of my family.

Most Saturday nights, relatives and friends gathered in someone’s house, often ours, to play cards around a dining room table. As a kid, I followed my bubbie around as she prepared for the visitors. Leaves were added to the table to accommodate the 10 or so players. Ashtrays were placed in strategic positions, and a carousel of poker chips was pulled out of the closet along with two decks of cards. Before the guests arrived, Bubbie allowed me to arrange the chips in lovely red, blue and white patterns across the table while she placed bowls of popcorn and candy in various places.

Sometimes I watched the game from my perch on the stairs and can still envision the smoke filled room where Yiddish, English and sometimes Yinglish resounded. One player, I recall, who talked incessantly never removed a big, brown cigar from his mouth the entire evening. It fascinated me to see the band of ashes grow until they finally fell from the cigar onto the table. No one but I seemed to notice.

Some of the players took the game very seriously, hardly talking during the evening. Others, like my Uncle Jesse, cracked jokes which I didn’t understand but that made everyone laugh. What bothered me most was there was always someone who yelled at Bubbie for playing the wrong card. She never yelled back but simply shrugged her shoulders as if it didn’t matter. I never understood why she continued to play with such mean people, even if they were relatives.

Saturday nights when I was growing up meant the same folks getting together every weekend, playing cards, joking, eating and interacting. I don’t think it happens on a regular basis anymore. Nowadays, people dine out, go to a movie or play or have a party where they feel obligated to mingle so they don’t appear cliquish. Back then, maybe people thought we were a little cliquish, too, when they saw the same group gathering week after week. What they didn’t know was that we weren’t cliquish at all. Actually what we were was clannish.

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