So from 1998 until 2005, I would look forward to spending weekdays at the pool watching the “oldtimers” play Knock Rummy for small change…and I began collecting my Quarters for when I might get invited to join them in the future.

Looking back over my life now has made me understand that I enjoyed the company of “older” people my whole life. Maybe it began when my mom’s friends hugged and kissed me while their husbands were off in WWII and then it continued when their husbands came home and I would listen to all their war stories as a young child.. I came to learn early on in my life that if I wanted to get an understanding of what my future could be, all I had to do was listen intently to the “stories” of older people who knew so much more about life then I did. I really loved listening to all their stories while I was growing up on Mulberry St. I guess because I listened to so many stories over my 76 plus years from family, friends, teachers, patients and clients that I had no choice but to become a story teller too. Listening and telling stories must be in my DNA….

…so back to my card playing friends. Eight of them have stood the test of time in my memory. Of these eight characters 6 were Americans of Italian descent. Joe from Westchester NY., Andy from L.I. NY, Bob from Bklyn, NY, Sal from Bklyn, NY, and Sal from Albany, NY. Ray was born in Italy and also came from NY, and Tweezer (I never learned his real first name) from Ct., the only non-Italian was Polish Eddie from Ct. & These guys were all about 10 to 15 years older then me. Their minds were so sharp that they could tell stories about themselves and each other while they played their hands of cards. Sal, the retired NYC police detective was the leader of this group. He brought the cards and set up the games and the rules of play. The other guys followed his lead… when arguments came up, Sal settled them, as everyone respected his wisdom. One thing they all agreed on was that Tweezer was a “pain in the ass.” I laughed so hard when Tweezer would knock (end the game), by knocking with high numbers in his hand, because the game was in it’s early stages. He figured that the other guys did not have 3 or 4 cards in a suit so they would still have lots of points in their hand. An Ace could count as 1 point or 11 and the Jacks, Queens and Kings counted for 10. The other cards counted as they were faced. 2 to 9. If you had 3 of the same kind, it was a suit and counted for Zero points, and to get rummy you had to have 3 of a kind with 4 of a kind. 7 cards were given to each guy to begin the game. Rummy gave each winner 75 cents from the other 3 guys. If a player got “greedy” he could go for “straight rummy” which, if he got it (7 cards of the same suit (hearts,or spades, or diamonds, or clubs) numbered consecutively. That paid out “double” $1.50 from the other 3 players. You should have heard all the moans and groans when a player got lucky and won with straight rummy. If you heard them, you would think they were playing for lots of money. They all, just hated to lose. With only 52 cards in the deck, it was very hard to get straight rummy! It took a lot of guts to go all the way for it. So when Tweezer knocked early in the game with maybe 24 or 30 points and he caught the other 3 players with more then he had, he collected a measly 25 cents from each player and the 3 losers would be so upset that they had the beginnings of a good hand and he didn’t give them a chance to win, because he knocked and ended the game. They would call him all kinds of names but he would always have his usual response to them which was “What is the name of the game?” …and that would shut them up… because KNOCK rummy was the name of the game! But when Tweezer got “caught” by having more points then one of the other players, he had to pay that player $1 dollar, and the other 2 guys 25 cents. The guys loved when Tweezer got caught and they would tease him unmercifully. He just laughed and shrugged it off with a smile and sometimes he would just “knock” again as soon as the cards were handed out, just for spite! Joe from Ct. played very quietly, I had to learn his life story when he was not playing but just lounging at the pool. Sal from Albany was a very nervous player, he cursed often and also sang the same song over and over and over the whole afternoon they played. He annoyed everyone. Ray the Italian born player would just puff on his cigar and blow smoke all the time as he cursed up a storm too. Bob was a complainer, he complained about everything. He was new to the group as he retired right after he survived 9/11. He was on the 7th floor of one of the towers and managed to get out in time. He bought his condo and came with his wife to become a full time resident of Florida. Andy was the oldest guy in the group. He was one year older than Det. Sal. Det. Sal, the boss of the group, loved to tell me stories about himself as I sat by him as a spectator of their daily games. He taught me how to play, he said to me, “in case we need a “fill-in.” They never needed a fill in for the two weeks at a time that I was going down there in the winters of 1998 to when I finally got off the full months of November and February in 2005. That was when they began losing players as Bob the 9/11 survivor got Cancer. He survived 9/11/01 and died of Cancer in 2006. That’s when I began to realize that “when it’s your time, it’s your time.” There is no rhyme or reason as to when God calls us home… A year later Italian Ray died of a heart attack, the following year Joe from Westchester died of Cancer… It became my version of “10 Little Indians”…and then their was …..?????.

By the time I got to play, these guys were now down to one table. No longer enough players for 2 tables. The survivors welcomed me with open arms…. I had a great education into what the future looked liked… It was “the game of life” and the “game of life” had an “expiration date”!!!!… that was when I began to live “one-day-at-a-time”, take my 6 pills a day (now it’s up to 8 a day) and appreciate each day I woke up. My first prayer of each day I wake up is:.. “thank you God for one more day” and then I get up and live the day with a big “it’s good to be alive” smile on my face!!!

More tomorrow!

Read the next post Taking Stock Day 61