Regular Game Night
As my siblings and I are slowly going through the MANY piles and files at Dad’s house, most everything is going into the trash or recycling. But I came upon several file folders of games and ice breakers Mom had stored in one of the filing cabinets and I tucked those into my backpack to peruse at a later time. As someone who leads retreats and workshops, I’m always looking for those types of activities.
I finally got around to checking them out this past weekend and they brought back a lot of memories. When we were growing up, Mom and Dad had been very active in our church’s Methodist Mates, a social group for young-ish married couples that long ago went by the wayside, for obvious reasons. But in the 70s, there weren’t many young adults at my church who were single—either through divorce, death, or personal choice—so Methodist Mates was a thriving monthly option for fun.
Couples divvied up the year, volunteering to oversee the festivities for one of the months. Sometimes it was as simple as making reservations at a restaurant. Those organizers clearly lacked creative imaginations! When my parents were in charge, nothing so pedestrian and uninspired would do. At the very least, for certain months, the evening might be holiday-related: February might include pink hearts scattered around the house with love-related trivia questions on them; March might send you through our home searching for as many hidden green construction paper shamrocks as you could find; October might require dressing up like a well-known couple … you get the idea. Regardless of the month, brains were often tested (or teased) with letter equations like “8D – 24H = 1W” (answer: 8 days minus 24 hours = 1 week), rebus puzzles like “|r|e|a|d|” (answer: read between the lines), or Famous Couples Fill in the Blank like “____________ and Delilah” or “Abraham and __________ Lincoln” or (talk about a weirdly dated clue) “Donald Trump and ____________ _____________” where the answer was Marla Maples!
One time, the invitations—yes, Mom actually made fancy, official invitations for this one—made it seem like the group would be coming to our house for a five-course meal with my sisters and me as waitresses servicing the card tables spread around the dining room, living room, and basement of our small home. The guests were given menus with a list of somewhat mysterious items like “Baby tree” and “Popeye’s preference” that they had to try to figure out so as to properly place their order for each course. Most people thought Popeye’s preference was spinach, but it was actually a drop of olive oil. And the baby tree was a toothpick. After the five “courses,” most people hadn’t had much to eat at all but my sisters and I acted like nothing was out of the ordinary, clearing the tables and asking if they’d enjoyed their meal. We kept up the ruse just long enough for everyone to start getting a little worried that that really was all they were going to be given to eat before bringing out the plates of spaghetti, the baskets of garlic bread and the bowls of tossed salad, much to everyone’s relief and delight.
Another time, my dad—always the engineer—constructed a long wooden beam with a curtain hanging down from it that ran the length of our living room. He got all the men to go in the dining room while the wives gathered against the far wall in the living room. Then my sister, Jill, and I carried the curtain in (we had to come through the front door because the beam was too long to manage the turn from the dining room into the living room—and even then, it was a very tight fit). We stood on chairs at either end of the living room, resting the beam on our heads (it was kind of heavy) thus dividing the living room lengthwise with the wives on one side. The husbands had been instructed to remove their shoes and socks and then they filed into the living room and lined up against the curtain with their feet sticking out underneath into the lady’s side. The wives then had to identify their husband’s feet and stand in front of him. Jill and I then lowered the curtain for the big reveal.
Because a good bit of work had gone into creating that curtain, Dad naturally wanted to get more use out of it. So a similar game was played the following year, where horizontal slits were added about 2/3 of the way down the curtain. This time the wives, after removing all jewelry, filed into the living room and inserted their hands down through the slits and the husbands had to identify their partners by their hands only. I remember being impressed both times by how well they all did, more than 90% getting it right. And everyone, of course, had fun.
Several years ago I was reminded within a six-month period by three different, and totally unrelated, people that I needed to have more fun. The reasons behind all that are much too involved to go into here but the long and short of it was that I had gotten so into “survival mode” as a single (no Methodist Mate for me!) freelancer that fun had gotten sacrificed. It had happened so incrementally, like the frog in the slowly heated-up water, that I hadn’t even noticed. But it had definitely impacted me, and not in a positive way. The good news is that I’ve improved that reality—and, as a result, my sense of wellbeing—during the ensuing years. The bad news is that I may not have gone far enough and would certainly benefit from additional infusions of regular, intentional fun. Perhaps a monthly game night.
After six years of battling a rare form of lung cancer, a divinity school classmate of mine, Doug Gestwick, wrote a book in 2022 about his journey and the subtitle is SurThriving after a Cancer Diagnosis. Discovering Mom’s file folders of games (and reliving the memories they awakened) is a good reminder that surviving and thriving are two very different things. And just this week I was made aware of a book by Catherine Price entitled: The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again. I think the universe is trying to tell me something! Mom is now gone, survived by, among others, me. Perhaps one way—one enjoyable, delightful way—to honor her memory is to make fun a more essential part of a thriving, not just surviving, life. After all … “All ______________ and no ___________ makes _______________ a _________________ girl!”