THE NATIONAL GRANGE
From One Generation to Another: A Family Pastime Becomes a Weekly Tradition
Originally Published in Good Day! Magazine
Published: February 2017
Her worn hands host a collection of 13 cards. Mumbling about the hand she just received, she lets a few words slip through her lips.
“If we were doing two sets of four, I would be golden!”
“Skip Larry!” echoes in the air as the game gets started As Lois gets settled into this week’s round of cards.
Between telling stories, and gossip of the week, this group miraculously find the time to play the two games that make it to the schedule every week: Phase 10 and May I, though canasta and Kings in the Corner may occasionally slip in as well.
Words turn in to warnings and whispers turn into shouts as the friendly game grows. A gentle “skip, Larry,” turns into as shout at Larry, the second eldest of the four Hanna siblings, for putting his cards down and winning the game. The love is never gone, but competitive spirits thrive on Friday nights when three of the four Hanna siblings and several friends who have become extended family gather for cards as they have for nine years.
Like Saturday football in the South, for the Hanna’s and their close group of friends, card games here are like religion around the table in the small house in Flemington, N.J. The communion wafers are replaced with potato chips and cheese doodles and each eats their fill.
“My children know not to bother me,” says Donna Stefanick, a family friend who has been at the table since this particular tradition began with a simple New Year’s Eve party in 2007. “They know that Friday nights, Momma is at cards.”
Surrounded by good friends, food, and heartwarming and gut busting stories, this is more than a routine for the Hannas, and it harkens back to a simpler time when each of the four siblings were young.
Seated around a table the Hannas recount their early experiences with card playing.
“We had a register in the floor, but when we were told to go to bed we laid on the floor and we’d watch ‘em,” Barbara, the third of the four Hanna children, said. “That’s how I learned really, is watching mom and dad play cards.”
“The hole was small,” Larry says while holding up two fingers in the shape of a circle to describe the size, “but boy, you’d figure out that learning it was hard to do.”
Lois Hanna, the eldest, said later they received a more formal education in the games.
“Mother and Father, and our aunt taught us. Aunt Florence taught us an awful lot of cards games, but mom and dad played cards. They taught us how to play pinochle. They taught us how to play canasta, too.”
“Daddy played, not all the time but he would play at events,” Barbara Hanna, the third child, now in her seventies chimes in. “Once in a while. Canasta wasn’t his favorite card game, but he would play.”
“It was hard, but you had to concentrate,” Barbara said. “I would sit with my uncle or Aunt Florence and watch them play. I learned by watching other people, my aunts and uncles, do it.”
With the end of the round drawing near, the competitive spirits at the table grow.
“I needed a 10, what were you collecting?” Stefanick asks Sarah Williamson, the Hanna’s cousin and Stefanick’s good friend,
Williamson slyly answers, “Twelves.” It is as if a dam has burst. The recollections flood out from the Hannas.
When asked where they played cards as children, Larry, a soft-spoken man, said, “Oh, they were all over.”
“It was tradition when my grandparents were alive that their children, our aunts and uncles, would visit their mother on Sundays and the cards went on the table,” Lois says. “The kids went outside and played, the adults stayed inside and played cards. So, we came from a card playing family.”
“And some of us just stay with it,” Barbara quickly replied.
“Are you going out?” resonates across the table throughout the night, hoping to warn the players to begin counting cards.
Barbara continues the story of the family tradition’s roots.
“Aunt Edith and Uncle Bill would come down to the house,” Barbara says. “Then Aunt Bessy and Uncle George would come New Year’s Day.”
Time has given each of the Hanna children years to learn a variety of games and choose a favorite – or not.
“I don’t have one,” declares Lois when asked which games she enjoys most. “I don’t have a favorite.”
“Let’s see, my favorite would be...” Barbara begins before being interrupted.
“52 pickup,” declares Stefanick, cutting Barbara off, which is not uncommon among this group. Finishing a thought is a virtue at this table on Card Nights.
Amidst the laughter at the table, Barbara responds, “No! I don’t play 52 pickup. Mine would really be canasta. I really like canasta.”
Lois answers for Larry with poker or pinochle to which Larry gingerly responds, “Yeah, it’d be between them two.”
Getting distracted by what he has deemed the poor dealing of cards by Barbara, Larry quips, “You’re no help,” to which Barbara was says through a giggle, “I never was.”
copyright 2020 Kimberly Stefanick
designed & created by Kimberly Stefanick