Kissing Jokers

It’s 9pm now and still completely light out, dinner is over, and I wring the dishcloth one final time.  The hot water heater is on its last sparks and now offers either lukewarm water or scalding hot lava.  The plumber comes later this week.  I pour myself a cup of raspberry tea.  We’ve decided to play a hand or two with our 20-year-old cards.


I’m not a card shark, but I can shuffle.  I can make a bridge with the cards after I shuffle, and I’m almost always the dealer.  Our two decks of red Bicycle cards are so old they practically shuffle themselves.

We’re usually too exhausted to play cards in the summer, but this year His Majesty is here before his last year of college and we have been enjoying a game together more nights than not.  The game is Shanghai, a series of gin rummy games of sets and runs that my grandparents played and I’ve played my entire life.  His Majesty has also played his entire life — 22 years — and he knows all the idiosyncratic home-grown rules, but he can’t shuffle worth a dern.  He has huge hands.  A basketball and guitar playing dream come true, the Bearded One has long said.


But they’re awkward with a deck of cards.  He’s on the couch mindlessly practicing now.  Shuffling’s one of those things you just have to do a million times ’til you can do it in your sleep.

I stroll into the living room and observe for a brief moment or two.  His Majesty has been staining deck joists all week, and his fingernails show it.  During last night’s game, he told us about his recent dreams of needing to finish staining huge piles of lumber.


deck and meat bird pen 005

“What is the problem here?” I ponder out loud, as the cards in his large hands stick together and collapse.

“You’re watching,” says His Majesty, and grins.

“Let’s play,” I say.

The Bearded One is already at the kitchen table, working on jam labels.  Our oldest daughter is getting married on August 24 and I am making 200 jars of jam for guest gifts.  The labels are the Bearded One’s job.


His other wedding job is creating the cedar arch the happy couple will be married under, including the logistics of transport to and assembly in Seattle.

Arches debarked 001

His Majesty places the cards in the middle of the round table and sits down in the rocker to my right, his usual seat.  I’m between two tired guys.

The Bearded One moves the label project onto the empty fourth chair and sips his Coke.  A jar of 24 wishbones is the only thing left on the table, our tribute to last year’s meat birds.

Wishbones and cards 002

This year’s 60 Cornish Rock broiler chicks will be born tomorrow down in Oregon, and shipped to us two days later, on Thursday.  The brooder is ready, as is the entire meat bird pen.

deck and meat bird pen 008

The Bearded One is worn out, but is rousing himself for the sake of competition.

“Ninety nine percent of good shuffling,” I say, splitting the double deck, “is setting them up right.  It’s all positioning.”  I begin the shuffle and thank goodness, it works, each of the 104 cards falling into place.

“Make the bridge, make the bridge,” chants the Bearded One, and I oblige, cupping my hands so the arched cards fall down over each other into a neat stack.  The men applaud.

“What’s the game?” asks His Majesty.

“Three sets,” says the Bearded One, and I groan.  I hate three sets and the Bearded One knows it.  This is blatant flirting.


“Two runs,” says His Majesty, as he always says.

“Two sets and a run,” I say.  The men agree, as they must, and that’s that.  I deal 10 cards to each of us, snapping each card into place, and then give the Bearded One an additional card.  “And the Bearded One gets the discard,” I say, as we each fan out our cards.

Kissing jokers is an idiosyncratic rule descended from my grandfather, one of our many crazy rules, and I kiss the single joker I’m dealt.  The poor, joker-less Bearded One growls.  Literally.

Then His Majesty, who has always been lucky, smiles and kisses his wild card, too.  He’s got a good hand.  No poker face at all.  He’ll be shuffling in no time.


14 responses to “Kissing Jokers

  1. Ha! Sounds like a fun game. I can play Hearts. I always try to shoot the moon. Regardless of what I’ve got in my hand. People think I know what I’m doing…until they figure out I don’t. I can make a bridge too!

    • I don’t know any other card games which is weird, ’cause I love to play Shanghai. I’d even have to be reminded on how to play Go Fish and Old Maid! (I think I’d refuse to play Old Maid.) 🙂

  2. I can make a little house out of cards (that invariably falls down) but that’s about the limit of my card sharkability. I am invisaging you with one of those visors on Christi in the movie “The Sting” ;). I fear your entire post (except the bits about the B.O. making labels and the cedar arch) were in “Cardenese”. I don’t understand cards. I frustrated the heck out of my grandma whenever she wanted someone to play rummy, bridge or anything else with and she drew the short straw and I was the only one left in the house…I am a card dunce :(. I guess you can’t be AMAZING at everything! 😉 If we ever get to sit around a table and play cards, I promise you…I am not just letting you win! 😉

    • One cannot be amazing at everything, Fran, and some of the most wonderful people I know can’t stand cards, including my very own mother. My in-laws love 42 and Dominoes. I don’t get 42 AT ALL, and Dominoes is fun at their house. We don’t play it here at the Farmlet much. I can’t seem to care about any other games at all, actually. Scrabble is too much like crossword puzzles, which I do not like. Or Sudokus. His Majesty does a Sudoku every morning, just to wake up. This is not my way. 🙂 If we get to hang out together some day, Fran, I promise not to even mention the C word!

    • We used to play strip poker Fronkii 😉 I remember you being pretty good at cards too, unless i’m even worse than you 😀

  3. For some reason I can’t click “like” and I can’t read comments that other bloggers (that I comment on their pages) make in reply to my comments. I am hoping that it is just WordPress on one of their drives to save energy (or whatever it is that they are doing to we poor long suffering “free bloggers”…). I miss my replies!

  4. Congratulations to your daughter on getting married!! The cedar arch looks beautiful. 🙂 My favourite card game is Gin Rummy or Spoons. (Spoons is hilarious, frantic and possibly dangerous?) 😀
    Me and my family own laying hens but we were thinking about getting some broilers, though we only have room for 3 or 4 for the first few years. However, we are worried it wont be cost effective because we are feeding them for a long time just to eat a chicken which would have been cheaper to buy in a shop. We are into the home farm and self sufficiency thing with our garden and chooks (chickens) but want to branch out a bit. In this blog you said “The brooder is ready, as is the entire meat bird pen.” Does this mean you can buy broilers which you can breed/are broody? I’ve heard broilers don’t lay eggs, is this a breed thing or just select birds? Thank you very much!
    Lorna xx

    • Great questions, Lorna, and I really don’t know how hatcheries get all these Cornish Rock eggs to hatch because they are bred to grow very fast and truly don’t live healthily beyond 10-12 weeks. They have large breasts and become very inactive and can even “turtle” (turn over accidently and not be able to get back up). I’ve read that the hens do not lay eggs or if they do, they’re very small. They are a bit “freakish” in this, and if we didn’t give them such a good 7 week life, I doubt I’d participate, you know? They eat a lot, but we have found they are cost effective if you consider how large they get (easily 6-8 pounds each dressed) the expense of the same free-range bird at the store. Here is the link to the hatchery we got our birds from this year. We’ll harvest these 60 birds on August 2 — we rent the equipment from the County Conservation District with another neighbor. These 60 birds will go into our freezer and last us all year.

      There are breeds that are good for both laying and meat, like Buff Orpingtons, but I didn’t want to kill chickens that had been around for awhile and that were laying eggs. Our layers are pets, really. They have names! The meat birds don’t.

      Anyway, you can see I’m no font of knowledge, but that’s what I know and how we’re doing it at this point. Thanks for the question, and….spoons sounds like a fun game. 🙂 lol

  5. Christine Widman

    The arch will be so beautiful at the wedding.
    At our oldest daughter’s wedding – outdoors in a meadow in Flagstaff – her friends created an archway from aspen branches for the bride and groom to walk through.
    I feel the arch creates a connection between bride and groom and earth and sky. A very good wedding symbol.
    You know me – I LOVE games of every kind. Cards, Board games, Murder parties, crossword puzzles, egg hunts.
    When I was young, Clue was my favorite board game – Authors my favorite card game. Bridge in my college years and throughout my 20’s. My love and I were always bridge partners and played the “Italian Method” – we were dynamite at Bridge.
    I learned to shuffle cards in that fancy gambler’s way on the USS Patch Navy ship heading to our new Army home/life in Frankfurt, Germany. June 1959. I was 12.
    Another kind of connecting arch. Playing cards – family together.

    • Oh, Christine, I didn’t know you and Denny played bridge! I have Grand Master bridge players in my family, yet I never learned. It’s like knitting for me. Always available, never interested. I also didn’t know you learned to shark-shuffle on a Navy ship. How cool to learn these things about you after knowing you for decades.

      Thanks for articulating the lovely symbolism of arches, “creates a connection between bride and groom and earth and sky.” Perfectly put. Love you, ck

  6. How lovely that your wedding guests will get wonderful homemade jam! The cedar arch is splendid — reminds me of my father making an arch for my sister’s wedding at my parents’ home. I love what Christine said about arches, too.
    In our house growing up, pinochle was the game to play. My mother and father played it until the wee hours when my Pa came back from the war (WWII) and he was unable to sleep. My dad could play it in his sleep. I love card games, but have never played Shanghai. One of my faves is Knurtz (or Nertz, as I’ve seen it also).

    • I love that image of your parents playing cards together in those sleepless, post-trauma war times. Somehow it is intimate without actually touching, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing.

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