I was born a winner. Some people just are.
This morning, I made an overdue call to my sainted mother. She lives in what we used to call back in the 1970s, decades before political correctness and cancel culture were nefariously and perniciously introduced into American society, “the old folks home.”
Mom resides at the Greenhill Villas of Mt. Pleasant, which sounds like a pleasant place, and for a nursing home, it is! The staff is wonderful. The facilities are nice and well-maintained. She has boo koo friends. The food is “pretty good most of the time,” according to Mom. The staff provides lots of activities and opportunities to socialize and interact with the other residents.
All of this, of course, is a great relief to me.
Back to winning…
I called my Mom while on my way to work this morning. The conversation went as follows:
“Good Morning, Mom. How are you?”
“I am doing pretty good!” she answered.
(Mom has suffered a series of strokes in recent months. These have adversely affected her speech. She is wheelchair-bound. She requires help to bathe and such. But she is always doing “pretty good.”)
“That’s great, Mom. Are they taking good care of you?”
“Oh, yeah. They are all very nice here. They take good care of me.”
“Good! You been playing any 42 lately?”
(Forty-Two is a Texas domino game that requires the same kind of attentiveness, attention, and strategy as similar card games, such as Spades or such.)
“Yes, lots. Every day, I play 42.”
“Do you win?”
“Most of the time I do, yes.”
(Mom’s dad and my dad, her late husband, were both masters of the game.)
“Well, you have to let them win some or they won’t want to play you anymore.”
“That’s right, son. You can’t win them all.”
And that right there is my Mom in a nutshell. Dad or Granddad would crush your soul in a game of 42, but if my Mom thought it would do you more good to win than it would harm her to lose, she would let you win in such a way you would never know she had done it. She might even act frustrated with herself and talk to herself about how “stupid” her moves were, all to undergird your confidence. Then, she would internally celebrate your victory and the joy it brought you. I know this about my Mom. I have seen it.
I even emulated it once.
I had this friend who thought he was pretty darn good at ping-pong. Five games in, he was extremely frustrated and becoming more and more aware that “pretty darn good” is a relative term. I beat him every game…badly. I decided in game six to throw the game, to let him win and taste victory, regain some self-confidence. His subsequent crowing and obnoxious celebration led me to never do that again. I smoked him every game thereafter until he elected not to play me anymore.
I guess I am a cross between my ruthless 42 ace-of-a-Dad and my sweetheart Mom. (A few will scoff and cast aspersions on the sweetheart part having any place in me, but what do those turds know, really?)
Mom believes in winning with grace and losing with dignity and she knows that even winners “can’t win them all.”
Funny, isn’t it? A throwaway, light-hearted topic can remind you of all the best qualities of the person on the other end of the conversation. It happened that way for me this morning. A discussion of Nursing Home 42 reminded me that my Mom, Freda Jo Henager Strother, really is that woman, the one Solomon admired in his eternal tribute to his own Mom and all the great Moms before and since. She actually is the Proverbs 31 gal.
Mom was “a wife of noble character” who brought Dad “good and not harm” all the days of his life (verses 10,11).
She was a hard-working woman, always working side-by-side with Dad in his small business and often working a second job at a school or daycare (verses 12-14).
She was the first one up every morning and always had a hot breakfast ready for the family. I literally had to eat my first bowl of cold cereal at a sleepover at a friend’s house (verse 15).
She was wise with her money and always Dad’s bookkeeper, balancing books that too often included more month than money, and I never heard the wolf howling at our door (verses 16-19).
Mom always had a generous heart, as did my Dad. When she gave, she was not giving out of her abundance, for abundance was a rare guest at our house. She gave anyways, always (verse 20).
Mom made sure her kids wore good clothes, even if it meant she used her sewing machine to fashion her own. (Mom was a pretty good seamstress.) She also saw to it that her husband and kids were in a position of honor and respect. If I strayed from that position or abused it somehow, she had a way of correcting that, I can tell you, and it needn’t involve a spanking or whuppin’ (verses 21-24).
Mom was never one to shirk work. She enjoyed her soap operas when she could, but she worked while she watched them. (verses 25-27)
Mom has four kids and I dare you to get a negative word about Mom out of any of our mouths. We “rise up and call her blessed” (verse 28)
Mom is not one of those “charming southern ladies” who are all sass and little substance. She never puts on airs for anyone or pretends to be what she isn’t. She was and is a beautiful person but you never saw her making a show of that. Her greatest concern has always been what Jesus is doing in her life, not what others think of her lifestyle (vs 29, 30).
“Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (vs.31) I am one of her “works” and I am trying. I am doing my best. She is worthy of much, much more.
Forty-Two gets its name from the fact that adding the seven “tricks” to the total points available on the dominoes whose two ends equal either 5 or 10 – there are three worth 5 and two worth 10, adding up to 35 – equals 42. Thus, 7 tricks + 35 points = 42. You play partners, two teams of two, with your partner sitting opposite you at the table. Bidding can be no lower than 30. If you bid 30, you can lose up to 12 points (two tricks and ten points on the dominoes, basically) and still make your 30. Whatever you bid, you can lose up to the number that, when added to your bid, equals 42. Lose 13 on a bid of 30and you go bust. Your opponents win.
Bidding goes around the table, so if you are not the last to bid, you have to calculate the value of your hand and maybe lean on your partner’s unknown assets to get you over the line, lest another outbid you and you have to follow suit with them.
Bidding 42 means you will not lose a single trick.
Mom knows the set is worth 42 points. She further knows that the friendship and joy it brings are priceless. She would rather lose a hand than a friend any day.
I say I was born a winner because, right out of the chute, I won the Mom lottery. No one gets to choose their heritage. I thank God for mine.
I also say, “Thanks, Mom” every time I think about it.
Rise up, children! Rise up.