I deleted my Facebook account and took up Golf. My older sister bemoans my departure; my younger sister has just started with FB and beckons me to come back. It doesn’t help my case for staying away that it’s hard to say what I dislike about looking at Facebook – the closest I can come is that it’s like flipping through tv channels with no control over the remote: snapshots of beauty, ugliness, profundity, triviality, scolding, edification, advertising, satire, saccharine. It all splinters out at me, the sublime, the ordinary, and the dross in rapid, nonsensical procession.
I’ve left that and in its stead have taken up an old deck of cards and learned the game of solitaire called Golf. I discovered the game and its rules in an old Hoyle’s Rules of Games book I retrieved from its resting place in the closet beneath the stairs. The book, first published in 1946, owes its name to Edmund Hoyle, who published his first rule book, on Whist, in 1742 and became the last word on games. The cover of the 1983 edition I’m working from is decked with a king of hearts and queen of spades; a chess set’s knight and bishop; white dice with black dots and red dice with white dots; and stacks of plastic gambling chips: blue, red, and yellow. Inside, the book promises “descriptions of indoor games of skill and chance, with advice in skillful play.”
I played many hours of solitaire and double solitaire with real decks of playing cards as a kid, but there is much I didn’t know. I learn as I read that the cards I set out – seven in a row, five in a column – are called the ‘tableau;” the stack of cards I will draw from is called the “hand” in some games and the “stock” in others; and the stack I will create, by drawing one card at a time from the hand and as many as I can from the tableau, is called the “talon.”
I lay down one row of cards, begin to form columns, and as easily as that re-enter a place of calm and reassurance that I had almost forgotten. My mother is across from me, setting out her columns for what I had thought were endless games of double solitaire; my father deals hands of poker and Crazy Eights to my college roommate and me far into the night; my grandmother plays solitaire, Hoyle’s version of Klondike, and goes through her hand just once – a discipline we children, who go through the hand as long as we can, marvel over.
I learn from Hoyle’s that my grandmother’s version was not some impossible version created by a woman who, after all, did the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, but the real deal. My mother played an adjusted version with us, one in which the play from the hand lasted long enough to justify – perhaps for her as well as for us – the time it took young children to set out the tableau.
It is not only the dead who come to keep me company, but my down-the-road neighbor from two decades ago, with whom I walked the mile down to the corner and back many nights, and with whom I spent, along with her four children, many evenings playing cards – from the years the youngest would sit on my lap for part of the game to the years we talked about college admissions as we played. My friend knew many variations of card games. “Kings in the Corner” is one title I remember, although I have forgotten how to play it. Sitting at their dining room table, they tried to teach me Hearts, but I grew up playing Spades and was a slow learner.
I am not always so slow-witted, and I’m no stranger to computer versions of card games – one lonely winter I taught myself how to always win at Free Cell. I accomplished nothing else in that endeavor besides killing time by emptying it of everything but the strategy of the game.
But as I sit now at my kitchen table and lay out the tableau with the gentle sush,slap, sush,slap of pulling a card from the deck and laying it down, I am aware of the winter scene outside my window – the deep snow, the thorny Rugosa Rose stems rising from it with their leaves shriveled brown, their once brilliant rose hips gone or left in remnants as a dulled-red crown. And next to it the tall, many branched burdock stalk, each branch topped with a small, snow-capped, prickly globe – the burdock I kept meaning to get to but left for the butterflies and bees to feed from, and then left in admiration of its success amid the aggressive roses.
I’m aware, too of the reflections within my stout water glass, the slight rocking motion of its waterline as my arm touches the table – a reminder to look underneath to see if screws need tightening. I turn a card over and lay it on the talon. I hear my dog rise and resettle himself, hear the uneven, reassuring rumble of the wood furnace in the basement. Time slows, and fills. Nothing is remote.