“Home where my thought’s escaping, home where my music’s playing, home where my love lies waiting silently for me.”
– Simon & Garfunkel
It’s a cold, rainy morning. The first of several forecast days. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, really. I’m at the time of year where the idea of being forced inside is an agreeable concept. I can refocus on crafts, painting, games, and all those things that tend to be put on the shelf when the weather is pleasant (In Missouri, we get this twice a year – Winter and late summer, when the heat and humidity is unbearable). Taking advantage of the weather this morning, I meticulously went through my new coffee ritual (a fancy new coffee maker has revitalized my coffee snobbery), resulting in an exquisite cup of medium roast, Ethiopian True Blue. My oldest daughter recently decided she wanted to learn how to play magic. We previously bought a couple starter decks and settled ourselves at the game room table. I put “Always Saturday,” my go-to playlist, on the stereo, shuffled cards, and promptly took a thumping on her first ever play. Shifting gears, I tried my hand at Bugs in the Kitchen with my youngest girl. Three bugs in her kitchen to my two; defeated again.
This was o.k. for a number of reasons. One, I always play to win, but the experience of playing far outweighs the brief joy of being the winner. Two, playing any game with my kids is always a delight. My wife was busy in the kitchen doing one of her favorite things, creating delicious concoctions for us to eat. She cooks very similar to how a good Magic player builds a deck; figuring out how all the separate elements come together, working and playing off each other, to create a staggeringly delicious and sometimes waistline devastating meal. Given the weather, she thought chicken and dumplings would be a splendid fit for lunch. Well played. The aroma drifted through the house, gliding downstairs and under my nose. Everything was perfect. It reminded me of my Mother as this was one of her favorite meals to cook. It reminded me of home.
In a few days, like millions of people, we will be packing up our car and heading home. This year, it will be to my Dad and Stepmother’s house in the area I grew up, Southwest Missouri. As every good planner should, we are starting to stack things in place, preparing for the load-up and head away. Always one to prioritize, I have my stack of games already chosen and set aside. Unfortunately, it continues to grow, so there may be some trimming required. We could always just pack fewer clothes, right? We have to be willing to participate in a little give and take…
In all honesty, the likelihood of any of the games seeing the table can be debated. When we go home there is always a flurry of activity, regardless of how little we try to plan. Friends to see, things to do, several restaurants that are a must-eat (I’m looking at you, Mexican Villa). As American’s are wont to do, this is where I say that there is not enough hours in the day. It’s all good, and if the situation arises, I will have games at the ready. I have quick games, dice games, card games, and zombie games, including Dead of Winter. My Brother-in-Law left Gwarkoni-Con (From Gwarkoni-Con to Geekway) with a desire to give that game a shot. I was sure to bring it in case I can oblige him. I believe that games are a great way to bring people together. I love playing with friends and friends-in-the-making, but I love playing games with family the most.
When I was in little pants and by virtue of being a Navy brat, we traveled pretty often. I was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and we moved to the Hanford/Armona area of California prior to settling in the small town of Nixa in Southwest, Missouri (Jason Bourne’s hometown). This was all before Kindergarten. I have, for all intents and purposes, rightly considered Nixa my home. At some point between Virginia Beach and Nixa, we frequently camped. The timing escapes me, and for the matters of the post somewhat irrelevant, but the point being that we used to stay in cramped quarters; a small pop-up camper. I have only brief, fuzzy memories about this time. Mental postcards here and there, but I do remember playing a card game called Kings Corners. Basically, the game is quite similar to solitaire, laying cards in descending order and opposite color, in columns that are orthogonal to the center draw pile.
Kings can be played in the corners, allowing another area for you to play cards. Once a king is the corner, orthogonal rows can be moved to a corner as long as the top card is next in line and of opposing color. The first player to play all the cards from their hand is the winner. As with any game, there are variations and different rule sets, but the foundation is the same and this is how I remember playing. We played by the light of a Coleman lantern. It seemed very adventurous and exciting, somewhere in the woods, playing cards. I very much enjoyed that game, probably much to the annoyance of most of the family, but I remember playing it a lot. If I close my eyes, I can smell the canvas and kerosene. I can see the tiny table, us squeezed around playing this game. I seem to remember my Mother complimenting me on how good I was at the game for my age. Maybe I was, or maybe it was parental coddling. Either way, I still accept the compliment. These are snapshots from a four or five-year old mind, so I am sure some of the gaps have been colored by time and desire, but none-the-less, these memories are mine and they feel like home.
My Father had just retired from the Navy and Southwest Missouri was selected as our next destination, so we moved to Nixa in 1977, but had to live in the nearby city of Springfield for some length of time. We lived in a motel while our house was being built. Modest might be a overly nice way to describe the motel. Two beds, a bathroom, and I believe a kitchenette. Small TV in the corner, and a table. Home. It seemed to work out pretty well in my mind, because across the street and through a small field was Crazy Cecil’s, basically a locally owned Wal-Mart type of store.
At some point we bought The Magnificent Race, an around-the-world themed racing game starring Dastardly Dan. I think my love for board game artwork started with this game. Beautiful fonts, Victorian esque illustrations, and cool components really made this game seem like the be all end all to a young nerd. I can’t recollect how often we played this game, but I do remember when my Dad, who was never much of a board-gamer (but later astounded me with his cartography skills by mapping the world for the first Kings Quest computer game), kept intentionally mispronouncing one of the sections on the boards. You see, there is a space that says, “Dastardly Dan absconds with $10,000 of yours. GADZOOKS!” Whenever someone would land on that space, my Dad would always say something slightly different from Gadzooks.
Honestly, I don’t remember exactly what he was saying but it was absolutely hilarious. From that point forward, I ever so slightly mispronounced things when talking to people. It kills every time, especially with my kids. That nugget of humor become a part of who I am. I should thank him this weekend. Part of who he is became part of who I am that day, when we played that game in our home.
There are other memories around family and games, but those two always strike me as most vivid. Once we settled in Nixa, we didn’t regularly play games as a family, but it happened from time to time. Dragonmaster once (I still own it and the artwork is fantastic, but that is another post). Othello, lots of Trivial Pursuit, Dungeon (mainly me playing all the players by myself. Hey, I always won!), etc. When I got older, there was a string of New Years’ Eve’s where friends would gather at my Mom’s house and we would share drinks and good times playing Balderdash, shooting off fireworks at the stroke of Midnight. These are all memories I have of home.
So we are heading home on Wednesday. Not to the home where I grew up or the home I live now with my wife and two girls, but my Dad’s home and the one he shares with his wife. My Mother died in 2006 and we sold the house and land where I was raised. For a long time after, I thought that I could never really go back home. In retrospect, that feeling was just part of my grief for losing my hero and the soil that helped define who I am. It’s been a long, personal journey between May 21, 2006 and this rainy, Sunday day. In some sense, I have been trying to find my way back home. I began gaming again about four years ago, re-introduced by a friend, then prodded along by the curiosity of Calliope at age Seven, who asked me if there were any fantasy type games that a kid her age could play. She didn’t realize at the time that she reawakened the Nerd Kraken; I hope she has enjoyed the consequences. I have shared countless hours around a table since. Around the table at our local gaming store, the houses of friends, gaming conventions, our home, and squeezed around the table in our pop-up tent while camping. Gaming helped me remember what it means to be home. Home is anywhere you find peace. It is wherever you can look up from your turn and stare across the table at someone you care about. Home is that moment when everything feels o.k., even when it isn’t. Home, more than a physical locations, is a groove, a thought, and a feeling. Maybe that is why I pack too many games every trip I take. They are boxes full of memories and memories to be made. Games have become part of our home, wherever we may be.
My brother and I both have families, busy jobs, and it’s hard to get together. I won’t get to see him on Thanksgiving and that makes me a bit melancholy. I take solace in knowing that I am home when I am at his house and he is home in mine. I will miss him though, and will think of him. On Wednesday, I am heading home. I look forward to seeing my Father, Stepmother, Stepsister, Brother-in-law, and any old friends I run across. I can’t wait to get there. Home.
Roll well, stay safe, and enjoy the ones you love. Happy Thanksgiving.