Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Poker night

Every December 24th for the past four or five years, Taxman and I have an unusually good time playing penny-stakes poker. With his parents.

Odd, right? It gets weirder. December 24th is my in-laws' anniversary. So they celebrate their union (34 years now) by playing (and usually losing) poker with their family.

It used to be a larger gathering, but Taxman's grandfather passed away the summer before AM was born, and his elderly grandmother is a bit too crotchety to stay up so late and to leave her hearing aid in. And now, of course, we've got the kids, so last year the festivities moved from my in-laws' place to ours.

But the spirit is the same. Lots of jokes, lots of pennies. It sounds crazy, but I love poker night. It's the one night a year when I get a glimpse of what my father-in-law was like years ago. Ordinarily, he has a pretty serious mien. He's smart and studious; if he doesn't have a child on his lap, it's occupied by a volume of Talmud. Which isn't to say that he doesn't make funny comments from time to time, but it's almost impossible for me to believe that in high school he and Taxman's boisterous Uncle M were best friends.

On poker night, however, all the books are tucked away. It probably started because of "nittel nacht," a leftover custom from Europe, where pogroms and such were popular on Christmas eve. Of course, the origins of the day no longer apply, particularly in the United States, but sometimes even the most casual of customs are rooted deep. So on the night before Christmas, my father-in-law doesn't learn Torah. He plays cards.

We deal; they pick the most random wild cards for each round, relishing the hands as they are dealt: "Oh, oh, oh! Possible flush! Straightening! A wild nine!" My father-in-law, the most scrupulously honest person I think I know, insists that his deck is cut when it's his turn to deal. My mother-in-law rarely folds, telling Taxman that she has to stay in "to keep him honest." I lose a lot, but Taxman wins.

Last year we took them for a dollar and sixty-six cents. (More, incidentally, than Taxman spent on me on our first date.)

This year we played despite our early wakeup to get to the airport.

And we made eleven cents.

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