Addictions may slip into remission, sometimes for years or even the remainder of an addict's lifetime, but the bug, though well hidden, is always there. The folks at AA have it right, once an alcoholic - always an alcoholic. And, as I am quickly coming to realize, once a compulsive pinochle player - always a compulsive pinochle player.
I've heard pinochle described as the gateway drug of card games - easy to learn, fun to play, and laced with strategies that easily adapt to other games.
My sister and I learned to play pinochle from one of our summer neighbors, Jonne Sue Legg, when our parents owned and ran a tourist court near Noel, Missouri, in the late 1950's. I was a pre-teen, and Gail was over three years younger than me - so it is a game that stretches from the elementary schools to the senior centers of America, or it would if kids could put down their electronic gadgets and learn games that involved face-to-face social interaction.
By the time I got to college I was fairly adept with a deck of cards. There was a continuing card game in the Student Union where players would get up and go to class and were quickly replaced by others who were returning from class. Some of those games of pinochle, spades, hearts, or pitch went on all day. Pinochle and 10-point pitch were my favorites. I also made the occasional dollar playing penny-ante poker.
I was in one unit during my army years where almost all we did during the work day was play pinochle (your tax dollars at work), and I was in one military pinochle tournament while serving on Okinawa that my partner and I actually won. My skills were sharp and my mind was quick. I entered that tournament expecting to win it.
But then came married life and a work career. My wife had never played cards and had no interest in learning, and the jobs that I undertook were much more demanding than that army gig. The upshot was that I played no cards for nearly forty years.
When I retired to West Plains last March I toyed with the idea of getting on the internet and trying to find a few people who would be interested in playing pinochle on a regular basis. I even found an old rule book and began trying to refresh my knowledge of the game. I remembered how much I loved playing pinochle and felt that the rhythms and nuances of the game would quickly come back to me.
Fortunately, I didn't have to go through the effort of trying to form a table or two of regular players because, as I soon learned, there was a group already playing every Wednesday evening at the local senior center. The office manager at the senior center informed me that new players were always welcome. I procrastinated a few weeks, coming up with all sorts of things to keep me at the farm on Wednesday evenings, but I gradually overcame my fears (or shyness) and showed up one night ready to play cards.
It took several weeks before I got my pinochle groove back, but I eventually got to where I felt like I was on par with everyone else. The diverse group of players - most all of whom are older than me - include a pilot, a biker, retirees, a couple still employed, housewives, people with disabilities, and others whose stories I have yet to learn. Each week we draw for partners, which is a good way to gradually get to know everyone.
Most of the players bring treats to the games - chips and cookies, usually - so there is plenty to munch on. One player even brought a bag of persimmons one night.
Up until this week I had been on a steady arc of improvement. (This week was a disaster, probably due to my post-election funk.) My best night ever was two weeks ago when my partner (the county Republican Party Chairman) and I won every hand except the very last one. (Pinochle makes strange bedfellows!)
I really enjoy Wednesday nights at the pinochle tables, and have not missed a single week since I started playing last summer. I will miss the game this coming Wednesday though due to a trip out of town. (John Cleese, you'd better be worth it!)
A forty-year hiatus could not kill the pinochle bug - he was just lying in wait for a chance take control again. And anything that keeps the old people off the streets at night can't be all bad!