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  • When I was a kid on the island we played games at night.

    Some were outside games. Capture the Flag where we divided the island in half and played commando style through the forest and fields made eerie by the night. Flashlight tag. Sardines. Kick the Can. Since we were anywhere from 17 to 6 and three-quarters our focus in the games varied. The younger kids were swept up by the dynamics of the game and dashes for freedom and fame. Us older kids, well me anyway, were seriously drawn by the opportunities to hide somewhere close in the sweet dark night.

    But other nights it was foggy and dank and then we played inside games. We played poker with matchsticks and there was the memorable time when Larry from Natick rubbed his fistful of strike anywhere wooden matches together and they all went off like a hand held flare. He held them as long as he could and then let them go, trailing smoke across the room. We played Parcheesi and Cribbage, Hearts and Spades,and vengeful, board-pounding rounds of Monopoly.

    And some nights we gathered around the long wooden table down at Harriet’s and played Up Jenkins. The two teams faced each other across the table. One team put their hands under the table and passed a quarter from hand to hand.

    Up Jenkins, called the other team and all the hands came up, fists closed. The quarter hidden somewhere.
    You could call members of the other team to do dancing umbrellas or creepy crawlies or a grand slam and other tricky manoeuvres I can't recall and were probably made up at the time anyway. The object was to eliminate hands one by one until only the hand with the quarter was left.

    Sometimes Ted joined us. Then we were ages 75 to 6 and three-quarters.

    Your finger is crooked Ted, I said. Just right for a quarter.

    Ted took a long look at his rum and water. An old sailing injury, he explained. A flying winch handle.

    I nodded. Yeah, right. Just right for a quarter.

    It stiffens up when a storms coming, he went on. The old bubbly glass windows rattled in their frames right on cue.

    We pondered that. He was an old man. He looked so deeply inward. He wrote books. He had lived on the island year-round during the Depression. His fingers looked like they had seen lots worse than winch handles. He looked at his rum and water and then across the room to where his old standard poodle sat on the window seat and waited for him. Their eyes had seen plenty.

    Dancing umbrellas, we told him without mercy. His cupped hands looked like a pair of stiff octopi, not a glint, not a clink, not a hint of a smile. He sighed.

    OK then, Grand Slam, we demanded.

    Up came his hands and down they slammed, flat on the table. The kerosene lamps flickered. Little waves rocked his rum and water. But not a clink. Not a glint. Just the slap of flesh on wood.

    Lift it then, we said.

    Ted’s lifted his hand with a sigh. The quarter gleamed on the table.

    Ted roared with laughter and took a long thirsty pull on his rum and water.

    When I was a kid on the island we played games and tested our strength and our endurance and our wits. We learned the combinations of number facts and how to take a chance, even shoot the moon. We bet on slim odds and looked deep into the well of character. And in my memory of the times, though we argued and fought and sometimes upended the playing board, there was always the laughter. Over and above and through it all, the laughter.
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