Posted by Sheila Connolly
Like a lot of writers, I can't stop acquiring books. I can't walk past a bookstore–particularly one with used books–without stopping just to take a look. And I'm drawn to flea markets and yard sales where books are stacked in unsteady piles, priced to sell–a quarter, a dollar tops. As a result, over the years I have ended up with a rather eclectic assortment of books. I have never regretted buying Emily Post's Etiquette, because if I'm ever called upon the coordinate my footmen's uniforms with my table settings, I want to be prepared. I also have a treasured copy of Noah Webster's Elementary Spelling Book from 1829–and if what is included in that is considered elementary, then our current educational system is in deep trouble.
The most recent addition to my library is The Official Rules of Card Games: Hoyle up-to-date, Thirty-Third Edition, First Printing, dated 1937. It is a window into another world.
Most of us of a certain age learned card games as we grew up–the easy ones, like Go Fish, Concentration, and 52 Pick-Up first, then the more challenging ones. I acquired Pinochle and Russian Bank in high school, Hearts and Bridge in college. In fact, for a couple of years some of my college classmates and I played Bridge with monomaniacal intensity in every free moment between classes. The obsessions passed; we all graduated, and I don't know that we've ever played since. Remember, all this was in the innocent, pre-electronic days, when we played with those paper rectangles called cards. I still have quite a few decks stuffed in a drawer.
So leafing through Hoyle is definitely interesting. There are games I recognize, such as Bridge, which gets the most pages; Cribbage (that's a card game?); Hearts, Poker. Solitaire. Firm ground there. Then we get to the murkier areas: Euchre, Whist. All right, I've heard of those, or read about them in historical novels. But I've certainly never seen the rules. Then we arrive at the truly obscure: Conquain; Evansville Clabber, Faro and Stuff, Gaigel, Go Boom, Hassenpfeffer (wait a minute–doesn't that mean rabbit?), Michigan (also known as Boodle), Napoleon, Panguinque, Put and Take, Red Dog, Seven and One-Half, Skat, and Slough. (Honest! I have the book to prove it.)
Once upon a time in this country, real people used to sit down and play card games, following rules that most of them actually knew. And for those that didn't, Mr. Hoyle was ready and waiting to help. For example, in Gaigel, to begin play "Eldest hand leads any card and each player in turn to the left plays any card he chooses, not being obliged to follow suit or trump." Sounds like a recipe for chaos, doesn't it? Yet here is a game with published rules, so presumably somebody followed them–and it took multiple people to play.
But entertaining and obscure rules aside, the concept of this clutch of games makes me stop and think. People used to play with other people, not with a glowing electronic screen. No doubt they had disagreements, and friendships were forged or shattered over a particular turn of the cards. I can imagine parlors across the country, lit by a few dim lightbulbs or, in many cases, even as late as the 1930s, oil lamps, filled with family members and friends who after all the chores were done and the meal cleared away, would break out the paste-boards and play a few rubbers or hands or whatever, and they might even talk to each other while they played.
If all this seems absurdly nostalgic, I was brought back to the present the same weekend I acquired the book, in a conversation with a colleague of my husband's at a picnic. Somehow we got to talking about card games, and he said that in his earlier days (he is my own age) in Wisconsin, everybody always played cards–there wasn't a lot else to do in Wisconsin in the winter months. And he proceeded to explain to me the rules of this local card game that even Hoyle didn't seem to recognize. But he had made his point: people entertained each other then. They didn't expect an electronic device to do it.
Anybody want to play Gin Rummy?