It wasn't often that our entire extended family could get together and, frankly, it was probably the last time it ever happened. That Thanksgiving, there were 18 of us. We were all seated around my grandmother's dining room table. The spread included turkey, ham, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, green bean casserole and at least two jello molds.
As my grandmother said grace, she got a little emotional. She knew a gathering like this was about to become the exception and not the rule. We all bowed our heads.
"I'd like to thank God for bringing our whole family together for this dinner," she said, starting to fight back tears, "and give thanks that none of us are living in pottery."
I don't know who was first to look up, but when I did, I noticed my father trying to hold in the laughter. I think he knew it was best not to laugh at his mother-in-law. It didn't work. And soon, the entire table was laughing.
My grandmother died yesterday. I'm not sure why this is the memory that first comes to mind. Perhaps it's becaue I never got to gamble with her.
Sitting in the Keno lounge, I was sorry I didn't yet know how to play Craps. It seems my grandfather was quite the dice thrower. My family was in upstate NY visiting me at college. Perphas the lure of the Turning Stone Casino helped convince my grandfather to come.
I hadn't yet perfected my Lite Brite method of Keno wagering. It, of course, is no better than any other method that's sure to be a loser. It didn't matter, however, because I just thought it was cool to be gambling with my grandfather.
He played the $5 20-spot ticket and as the numbers came up, he missed and missed and missed. He missed every one of them. And it paid off a couple hundred dollars. I thought he was the greatest gambler of all time. Who actually wins at Keno?
We spent the next couple hours in the Bingo hall playing off his winnings. It's the only chance I ever got to gamble with him. He died a few years ago. It was a bit of a surprise.
Yesterday was not a surprise. My grandmother had been sick for years. In fact, it's probably been five years since I had a coherent conversation with her. Her mind went first and, unfortunately, her body took years to break down. It was a long time coming, but she's in a better place now. And that's not just a cliche to me.
I'm not sure how much my grandparents on my father's side gambled. I know they loved to play cards. I've been playing canasta and cribbage and gin and just about any card game you can imagine since I was old enough to understand them.
It was my Dad who first introduced me to poker. He also first introduced me to horses. And craps for that matter. There's no question that I wouldn't be the gambler today if it weren't for Dad.
Of course, I don't want to let Mom off the hook either. She once came to visit me when I lived in Lincoln, NE and we took a trip across the river to Council Bluffs and the riverboat casinos. She spent most of her time at the Wheel of Fortune slot machine and hit a nice jackpot for a couple hundred bucks.
Perhaps my luck is genetic?
Even if my grandmother wasn't a gambler, I'm sure she considered herself lucky back on that Thanksgiving afternoon. She had a big family that loved her.
And none of us lived in pottery.