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Bankrupt, but still a good time

web1_RickHouser.jpgBy Rick Houser

It seems that I talk a lot about all the hard work we did on the farm and in our other ventures, but during a rainy season or on a long winter’s day when it was too cold to work, we looked for other ways to entertain ourselves. There was television but it was limited to three stations and in the day had very limited entertainment. I have mentioned we played a lot of cards but even that can grow boring (at least for a while). So an alternative was needed.

Please remember this was in the 1950’s and 60’s so the alternatives were not many, but at our house and with us all still living at home we had checkers and the one and only Monopoly. I didn’t mind playing Checkers because I did well unless it was my Dad and I don’t recall ever beating him. I would try to see a jump or two ahead but Dad could see more than a few steps in advance. This always led me down the road to defeat. However, I do remember him playing my Great Uncle Roy and Uncle Roy beat Dad soundly. That was when I learned he wasn’t invincible, only invincible to me. An odd thing I remember was that we didn’t have any real checkers. I guess they had been lost over time and I’m sure we could have bought another set of checkers at the five and ten, but instead we used buttons. Mom had a jar full of buttons and she sorted out a dozen big white buttons and a dozen big black buttons. They worked just fine except when crowning a person as some buttons weren’t flat and the top button kept falling off.

Now as for Monopoly ( just the word sends me into depression) we all five could play and a game with five could use up a couple hours of time if not more. The high point of a game to me was to choose a token. I always wanted that little dog. Most times I got him but sometimes just to be ornery, my brother Ben would take him. We then rolled the dice to see who went first but seldom did I ever get to go first. The first five or six times around the board I felt like I was on fire and this game was sure to be my first win. As I was buying up properties and collecting my 200 dollars passing “Go”, I could just feel fortunes going my way. What I didn’t pay attention to was the way Dad, my sister ,and Ben were choosing just which properties they wanted or passed on. Heck, I wanted them all! The name of the game was Monopoly wasn’t it?

Frankly, after the first six times around the board the game was just beginning. I would land on a lot that said go back to “Go” and don’t collect 200 dollars. What? There was a jewelry tax square and all of a sudden the other player’s properties began collecting rent off me as it seemed I landed on their properties more and more often. At first it wasn’t bothering me too much as I was holding a lot of cash and soon they would be landing on my properties. Let me stop right here and explain that along with planning and plotting, fate comes into play. In my case I ran into a lot of fate over the games I played with my family that I was beginning to not like so much.

As the game rolled on I would run out of cash and begin to mortgage properties to stay in the game. I was still somewhat good with this as I knew my luck would change and it did. Everyone landed on my properties then and rent couldn’t be collected. This was the breaking point for me. It was when Peg and Ben would begin to point out that I wasn’t as good as I had thought I was. By this time Mom was usually out of the game as she couldn’t concentrate since she was constantly jumping up to get us things to eat or drink and I don’t think she really wanted to play but did because her family was all around the table as a family and she wasn’t about to miss that time of joy she looked so forward to, even if it meant losing. Dad didn’t join in the taunting or teasing. He just sat there, listened, and at some point cooled the tempers that were brewing. Most always it was my temper. Inevitably I would have to concede and move to the side and watch Peg, Ben and Dad battle for the Monopoly championship.

This part of the game could sometimes take over an hour or so and another pan of popcorn from Mom came along with another pitcher of iced tea. But in the end and almost always, the winner was Dad. I don’t know if it was his ability to anticipate ahead, or just the experience of life or that word I used before-fate. Whatever it was, it worked for him. If he had a plan or secret he never shared it.

All I know is these two types of entertainment helped us chase away many hours of a useless day and we had fun. However getting skunked at checkers and always going bankrupt at Monopoly can work on a fellow’s confidence a little. Today I can win at checkers over my grandsons, but the word Monopoly causes my stomach to hurt. Maybe it’s time to play some Euchre.

Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and likes to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at houser734@yahoo.com.

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