Friday, July 11, 2014

Confessions of an Older Sibling: Old Maid

I don't live with much guilt in my life.  In the rare occasion when I feel a twinge, it harkens back to my days growing up as an older sibling.  I was a firstborn.  Of four.  (King of the castle?  Me.  Darth Vader, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker all wrapped up in one?  Me.)  1st of 4.  Only son/male.  Me.  Need I say more?  (Okay.  I will.)  I was like Esau with the birthright and Jacob usurping everyone around me.  It would have been perfect except that I was blamed for everything that went wrong because I supposedly knew better.  (I was freakin' 5 years old!  How was I supposed to know that I couldn't belt my 3-year old sister across the face when she chomped down on my arm like a ravenous T-Rex whenever I wasn't willing to play "House.")  (Do kids even play "House" anymore or was that some weird 70s thing that only happened when there was more than one female child?)  Seriously, it was a decent gig.  The Blame Game got old but I learned to roll with it.

Being the oldest meant I was usually in control.  Being the only boy with three younger sisters meant lots.  (I haven't completely figured it all out, but most of it was good as far as I can tell.)  And in case I didn't mention it, I was in control (but I should confess, I really had no idea at the time...but who does?!?).

Unfortunately, I will never understand and know how my younger sisters looked up to me and thought I was something better than I knew that I was.  I can only shrug, smile and...well, write about it now.  They thought I was cool.  (I wasn't, but they will never believe me.  But I love them for thinking such silly things.)  I admire them for having such altruistic thoughts towards one of their siblings.


Old Maid was a very important part of my upbringing.  I learned about psychology, reverse-psychology and everything in between by playing Old Maid with my dad and three younger sisters.

Allow me to fill in some details now that I mentioned my dad and sisters.  My dad was (and is) brilliant.  He was also a great dad.  (GREAT DAD is defined as "male parent who enjoys his kids so much that he will play anything and everything with them and pretend like he is loving every minute of it.")  The reason I know my dad was the GREATEST is because 30 years later, I still don't know if he was pretending or not.

Sister No. 1 was Elise.  She was smart and serious.  She loved bossing the rest of us around.  I ignored her drill sergeant demeanor but my other two sisters humored her.  She was hard, unflinching and always up for a challenge.

Sister No. 2 was Amaris.  She was beguiling and beautiful.  She scared me to death because she was the one sister I knew was thinking things that were well beyond the little box that I called my comfort zone.

Sister No. 3 was Jaira.  She was compliant and clumsy.  She was the baby-that-never-got-babied-but-still-was-the-baby because Sister No. 2 was scaring not just me to death, but everyone else in the family as well.

Where was I?  Oh yes...Old Maid.  We all played Old Maid.  (Except for mom...she was doing all the stuff that kids don't notice since I don't remember what she was doing while the rest of us were playing Old Maid.)  I remember us having a dedicated Old Maid deck with a host of funny characters (Fanny Flint and Betty Bumpers immediately come to mind).  As the oldest son (who was absolutely positively sure that he was smarter than his younger sisters), Old Maid was a riot.  I'm sure there was a day when I thought having the Old Maid in your hand was a bad thing, but I honestly don't remember it.  The undeniable truth of Old Maid is that the game is not the least bit interesting until you get the hated card in your hand so you can feel the absolute-otherworldly pleasure of unloading the card on someone else.

Few things in life are as satisfying as that exact moment when the dastardly card is plucked from your hand, especially as the horror of what just happened is fully registered on the plucker's face.  If there is one thing that younger sisters can do, it is cry.  Tears, tears, and more tears.  I had a love-hate relationship with my sisters' tears.  Typically, grabbing the Old Maid was instant tears (which I loved).  Sometimes there were threats to just stop playing the game (which I hated).  If I was laughing, smirking or showing any hint of amusement, I was accused of cheating or being mean (hated).  But since my dad was usually involved and acting similarly, I was absolved of any wrongdoing (loved).

ASIDE: I am just now realizing how much my sisters were short-changed of the true Old Maid experience.  Whenever I would snag the hated card from them, I would never give them any satisfaction as I would act as if nothing whatsoever was wrong when I chose the card of that old frowning hag.  I was delighted!  What a wonderful opportunity to see them shed even more tears when they grabbed the darn thing from me again!

The game within the game within the game...Old Maid got serious once the person holding the Bitch (My lands! Did he just say what I thought he said?!?) was down to just a few cards.  That's when we would start to play mind games.  (Hmmm, Elise keeps picking the second card from the left so I think I'll put the Old Maid in that spot.)  (Surely if I raise the Old Maid higher than the other cards Jaira will think I am trying to trick her into picking that card, so she will pick a different card and BOOYAH!  She will fall right into my trap.)  (Hmmm, Amaris saw right through my ploy last time.  Should I stick with the plan this go-around or mix things up?)  Needless to say, if you play this twisted game long enough, you are bound to feel the indescribable elation of eventually seeing your sick plan work to perfection.

And when it does, don't hold back.  All is fair in love, war and Old Maid.  If there is ever a time to dance, it's that moment when your younger sister was about to grab Succotash Sam for the win but at the last moment switches and grabs the Old Maid.  My usual response was to act upset for a split second until they see the card and then when their shoulders would slump in obvious dismay, I would break into song-and-dance and celebrate as if I had single-handedly won the World Series, Super Bowl and NBA championship all in one, nevermind the fact that I still had to draw a good card from them else I would have to endure precisely the same humiliation.

But that's just the oldest male...I only remember the good stuff.  I'm sure I lost a few Old Maid games, but I don't remember them.  What I DO remember is grabbing winning cards and my sisters crying, screaming (even kicking) just because they were left holding the OLD MAID!?!  (I admit, there is a sick satisfaction even typing this 30 years later.)  I remember my sisters crying themselves to bed because they were the Old Maid.  I remembered them thinking they couldn't go on living because they were the Old Maid.  I remember my mom getting mad at both my dad and me for not letting my sisters win (especially so close to their bedtime).  It was glorious.  I had no idea at the time that it would prove to be an enduring highlight of my life.