Playing games with the score

It was Tuesday night – Scrabble night with Uncle Joe. I looked forward to Scrabble night. My husband, Bernie, would watch the basketball game, and I'd swap the computer screen for human interaction in the form of pure fun and games.

Uncle Joe arrived promptly at 7:30. The board was set up on the kitchen table. I liked to watch my uncle focus on a play. With his chin in the palm of one hand and his brow furrowed, he'd plot his move – usually finding a spot where two added letters created three new words and no place on which to build. He did that again tonight, and I snarled, only semiseriously.

The clock hands moved along. "That's very good, Elaine," he said each time I made a reasonably intelligent move – no doubt one I'd learned by watching him. I glowed with pride.

Joe usually wins – sort of. "You know," he says, "this was really your game." He'll claim he had all the S's, or the Q and the Z – an unfair advantage. "You had to play a less-than-adequate hand, and look how well you did!" he'll add, "You had the greater challenge, so I think you won."

I grin, anticipating his next line. "Sometimes you can win even without the points!" he says. I love this side of Uncle Joe. He's a gentleman, win or lose.

Tonight, for our between-game snack, I bring out a bowl of chilled seedless grapes and a plate of bean dip with crackers. Now we discuss the day's news and other events of our week. When the second game begins, I'm ever hopeful that I will win – a real win, with points.

"Honey," I said to my husband later. "We should play games. It would give us a chance to do something interactive."

"We interact," he said with a smile. "What about going out to dinner? What about movies?"

"That's not interactive," I said. "I want to do something where we're talking and kidding around. Let's play Trivial Pursuit one night. We haven't played in ages."

The following Friday night, with no televised basketball games, I made my move. "How about that game of Trivial Pursuit?" I asked.

Bernie agreed, and I ran upstairs to retrieve the game. In a matter of minutes I'd set up the board on the kitchen table. We selected our colored discs and threw the dice. Bernie would go first.

"What category?" I asked.

"I'll take 'Sports,' " he said.

I pulled a card. "What speed skater won five gold medals at the 1980 winter Olympics?" He'll never get that, I thought smugly.

"Hmm, let's go with Eric Heiden," he said – correctly.

On his next spin, he landed on a geography question. A former history major, he loves geography.

"What's the capital of Chile?" I asked, ruing the injustice of his getting an easy question. I knew that one.

"Santiago," he said instantly.

It took three more rolls of the dice before I got a turn. He answered questions on a film from the 1950s, the currency of Monaco, and the value of 100 kopecks in rubles. I marveled at his store of trivia.

On my first turn, I landed on green – science. As an English major, I sensed a cloud of doom on my horizon.

"Where is human skin the thickest?"

Thickest? I mused. Derrière? Calf? Tummy?

"I say the thigh."

"Nope. It's the back," he said.

The outcome of the game was clear. I not only would lose, I'd lose big. I knew literature and history, less of geography and entertainment, little of science or sports. My pride shriveled.

"Good game, honey," I said. "You really know a lot of stuff." He gave me a hug.

"You won with points," I continued, "and I didn't win with no points."

"Say what?" He looked at me, puzzled.

There was no point trying to explain. I needed an uncle with whom I could be a silly little girl again, who handed me an unconditional triumph – with or without the points. Tuesday night I'd be on top again. I'd bake a chocolate torte for the between-game snack, in anticipation of my victory.

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