Thursday, April 27, 2017

Scrabbling Around

I am a Scrabble-holic.

I was not born this way; I evolved into a seven-letter, tile-shifting, triple-word-hunting maniac.

My mentor? My mother.

Mom loved Scrabble.

Early in their marriage, Mom and Dad were given a set. The giver clearly thought it was a good idea: Mom loved word games and Dad loved crossword puzzles. What could be better?

As it turned out, though, Dad hated the game.

"It's too slow," he complained. "I can't stand waiting for opponents to lay a word down. It's sit-sit-sit, stare-stare-stare, snore-snore-snore!"

So their communal set was relegated to a closet shelf for decades.

Until I was about eight or nine.

Mom introduced me to the game with Scrabble Junior, where players use letters that are about the size of flooring tiles to spell pre-determined words on the board.

Eventually, though, she graduated me to the real-deal. With utter glee, she would pull down the oblong, maroon box and launch a game.

There were concessions in those early years.

We could, for example, "shop" for letters. If one of us were caught with a Q and no U, for instance, house rules permitted searching through the unused tiles to find the necessary companion to the dreaded solo Q.

And we could "hunt." That meant perusing our huge dictionary for possible plays.

But over the years, we started trimming back on the rule-bending.

Some of my fondest memories are of her and I laying on our bellies on the living room floor, the board between us, records spinning on our stereo console. In summers, the front door would be open, and when a late-afternoon storm would blow through the neighborhood, we'd pause the game, scurry to close all the windows, and resume play, the clack of placed tiles being all but obliterated by the maelstrom outside.

I started occasionally beating her.

And then I started winning consistently.

To make the game more interesting, we would play penny-a-point. After the last word was placed, we'd subtract the loser score from the winner score, and the victor won the difference in cents. Payments were accumulated until they reached a certain level ($20 most often), and I recall being "paid out" in that amount more than once.

It became a great way to save for Christmas shopping, as I recall.

At some point, we upgraded our set to the "delux" version. That meant a board that rotated (before that, I played upside-down, to lessen the chance of letters spinning out of control as play shifted between us).

It was high-class.

One year for Christmas, I bought Mom the Official Scrabble Dictionary, and we dove into the realm of exotic, two-letter words: Qi. Za. Xu, Hm. Sh. Oi.

We'd play on vacations at the shore, with my aunt who had the apartment below us.

And my grandmother teasingly called the game "Scrapple."

By the time I got to college, our mega-matches began to tail off. They went completely on hiatus when I was in London studying.

And by the time I got married and started a family, they were completely in my rear-view mirror.

Sadly, as Mom aged, her memory failed her. Scrabble tourneys were no more.

I will play, though.

An app on my phone allows me to challenge the computer.

And I've found a fan at work. A few weeks ago, I stopped at Target and bought a board. It now sits in our lunchroom, and every so often, he and I will go head-to-head as we eat.

We haven't yet gone penny-a-point.

But maybe someday...

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