Photos by Alicia Cory from Shotcha Photography.
It had been years since I’d played, but back in high school cribbage was the focal point of my group of friends as we spent our Friday nights at The Coffee Klatch; a place that hung heavy with cigarette smoke, middle aged recovering alcoholics, and teenagers too young to hang out at the bar. It was the 90’s after all.
I wanted to see if I still had it where cribbage was concerned and why not try to relive my clandestine youth at a gathering of church folk on a chilly winter’s evening.
Joining me in the game was my friends Stephanie and Derek. I proved very quickly that I did not, in fact, “still have it.” Stephanie, on the other hand, proved she was an excellent player. Not only that, she spent most of the game telling Derek and I where we had missed points. Thanks to Stephanie, I ended up skunking both my opponents.
But, Stephanie didn’t mind. She cared more about the fact that we were all together having fun than who won or lost.
That sparked an interest to hear more from Stephanie. I’ve known her long enough to know kindness and friendship are part of her everyday vocabulary, but what has helped shaped her into this sort of person?
So, why not get together with Stephanie again, just her and I, and have a little convo over a game of cribbage?
“Who got you playing cribbage in the first place?” I asked after we’d dealt cards and discarded into the crib.
As a word of caution, if the game of cribbage is a mystery to you, it shall be even more so after reading this.
“My grandmother,” Stephanie responded as she organized her hand.
“The grandmother that sends me candy bars?”
Back-story: Having grown up on the Canadian border, I have an affinity for Canadian candy bars. They are the candy bars of my childhood, but they are sadly not available in the U.S. Stephanie’s grandmother, whom I’ve never met and upon learning this about one of Stephanie’s friends, includes in her packages to Stephanie, a collection of Canadian candy bars for Stephanie to give to me. One year, at Christmas, she even wrapped them up in Christmas wrapping with a bow and a little card.
“All right, so then who lays first?” I asked. “You?”
“Yeah, she said as Play began. “10.”
“Point for last card.”
“So your grandmother taught you?” I asked.
“From what I can recall,” she said. “Every time that we went to my grandmother's we were always playing cards whether it was Cribbage or Rummy. A lot of the time my visits with her were one-on-one because my siblings played hockey and I didn't.”
The Show began.
Stephanie counted first.
My hand was a bit sad.
So was the crib.
“15- 2 and a run for 3.”
I moved my peg five points on the board.
“How many siblings do you have?” I asked as Stephanie shuffled for the next hand.
“There are three siblings: two sisters and a brother. I’m the middle sister and second youngest kid.”
“And they all played hockey? Why didn’t you play hockey?”
“I hated hockey growing up,” Stephanie said slowly, tentatively, with a laugh.
“I think it’s sacrilege for a Canadian to say that,” I said in feigned dismay. Did I mention Stephanie is from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada?
“I know. I played basketball until I was about 12 and then I shot air rifle for my sport.”
“Are you a good shot?”
“Yeah. Actually, I had the top shot when I was 17.” There was a sense of pride in her voice.
“Do you still shoot now?”
“No. Don't really have much of an opportunity,” she said.
“This is going to be a killer hand by the way,” I said as we began the Play.
It turned out to be a 20-point hand.
“So what about your family back home?” I asked. It was my turn to shuffle.
“Family means everything to me. I mean I have a tattoo of the word ‘family’ on my wrist and a matching tattoo with my sister.”
I’d seen her maple leaf “family” tattoo before and always liked it.
“Why did you come to the States, then?” I asked since it was clear she has a fondness for home and family.
“It’s all Joel’s fault,” she laughed.
Joel is Stephanie’s husband.
“Tell me about Joel. How did the two of you ever meet?” I asked.
Turns out a friend and former coworker of Stephanie’s back in New Brunswick met Joel online playing World of Warcraft, an online game that allows players from around the world to talk with each other while playing. Stephanie started playing and talking with Joel as well, and the two made a connection. After a few months, the pair realized there was something more going on so they decided to meet.
Stephanie flew all the way from New Brunswick to Minneapolis where Joel and a friend picked her up. She stayed in Rochester for three weeks and by the end of those three weeks, Stephanie knew Joel was the man she was going to marry. Joel felt the same. So, she began making plans to move to the U.S.
“15-2, 15 -4, 15 -6,” Stephanie counted her hand.
“15-2, Knobs, and a pair for 5,” I counted mine.
We moved our pegs respectively.
Stephanie’s family was not at all happy with her choice. In fact, they performed a sort of intervention to convince her to stay in New Brunswick. I don’t blame them.
“Tell me about this intervention,” I said inquisitively.
“Well, I was at my parents, sitting around the table with the family playing a game of some sort. Every person was giving me reasons why I shouldn't come down here. Like, that it could be dangerous and that this could potentially have a bad outcome. But, my response was if I never do anything then I’m never going to do anything.”
“So how long after you came down here for the first time before you were married?”
“A little over a year. I came down the first time in February of 2011 and we got married in April of 2012.”
Stephanie had to go back to New Brunswick after the pair was married to apply for a Green Card in order to return to and remain in the U.S.
“I remember you in the process of getting a green card. That was sort of nightmarish as I recall.”
“It wasn’t as nightmarish as I’ve heard it could have been. It was just tedious.”
“Did you have to prove the relationship was real?”
“Because we hadn’t been married for two years, yes.”
“I count first right?” I asked as we reached another Show.
“15- 2 4 6 3 2 4 6 8.”
“What did you like about Saint John and New Brunswick?” I imagine it had to have been gorgeous in the summer being it’s a coastal city so close to Prince Edward Island, home of Anne of Green Gables.
“My parents don't actually live in town. They live about 45 minutes outside of town in the middle of nowhere. Both my parents commute for work. They've got a pool in the backyard and they’ve got a gorgeous garden. My dad used to make it a skating rink in the winter when we were little.”
“Where would you rather live? New Brunswick or Minnesota?” I asked curiously.
“If I could have all of the people, like, all of my people in one place, I would rather be here despite the high cost of seafood.” She laughed.
“Tell me about your childhood,” I prompted. “What’s the first thing that comes to mind?”
“Camping every summer. It was a family reunion of sorts. Everyone that could come would gather at this big field that was about an hour away from my parent’s house. There would be probably 20 or more trailers all around the edge of the field. Then, in the middle we’d put up a big military type tent with, I think, seven sections that serves as a common area. We’d rent port-a-potties and put them away from the trailers.”
They would have potlucks, play games, and visit. Some would come and go, but it was quite the ordeal. I imagine this sort of positive family experience explains why Stephanie has such close bonds with her family.
“Tell me about high school,” I said.
“I was kind of a nerd. I mean I had my friends, but I definitely was not one of the popular kids. I maybe got picked on a little bit.”
“Has that affected you in any way?” I asked.
“I'm sure it did but nothing really sticks out. The worst of it was in Middle School. I guess I was just weird.”
The sound of shuffling cards ripped through the air.
“I remember a couple years ago I was home in New Brunswick and Joel wasn’t with me. I don’t know if this was before I got married or after, but we were at my mom’s friend’s house whose daughter was a friend of mine.
“Well, this friend of mine had a friend of hers over and this person was someone who had bullied me growing up. She was talking about how she got bullied in middle school and I called her out. I'm like, no, that's what you did to other people myself included. She didn’t actually apologized but she did pause.”
“But you were able to call her on it?
“Yeah, and that’s not to say she wasn’t bullied, but if she was she was also the cause of that for other people. I told her she needed to think about stuff like that.
“It was kind of cathartic; just to tell her that she was one of the people that had done that to me,”
“That's pretty brave,” I said.
“10.” I laid a Queen.
I knocked on the table.
Stephanie laid another card.
I knocked on the table again.
“If I couldn’t go before I can’t go now,” I said in good fun.
Stephanie took her point for last card.
“10.” I laid a King.
“30 for 3.”
”And one for last card because I can’t go,” she said. “What you get?”
I laid my hand on the table.
“I was hoping for a Jack but I got jack,” I said and we both laughed at my little joke.
“Oh yeah, you would’ve been really good on a jack.” She sounded impressed.
“Yeah. So I got 2,” I said defeated.
But, the crib gave me 8 points, so that felt a bit redemptive.
“What's one of the greatest gifts you've been given?”
“A few years ago my younger sister paid for Joel and I to go home right after Christmas. My mom had just gone through surgery for cancer. It was not cheap. I mean, just paying for me to go home would have been above and beyond but she made it possible for both of us to go home.”
“This after the family had done an intervention to get you to not marry Joel,” I commented.
“Yeah. You know, one of my favorite memories was the first time I brought him home with me. We had already been married for like two years and we drove home and we were getting ready to leave and my younger sister was crying because she didn’t want me to go. And, she’s bawling and she says to Joe, ‘I wanted to hate you.’ She did not want to like him at all, but she did. And, does.”
We were in the middle of Play.
“Yeah. I think I only have four points,” I say.
“What do you guys do for fun on a Friday night?” I needed some ideas.
“Well, last night I coloured my hair purple,” she laughed. “Apparently it seems to be my favorite colour.”
“Apparently? You know that’s something you can decide. It isn’t chosen for you,” I smiled.
“Well, when asked, I usually say that my favorite colour is blue and I was actually thinking about this the other day, but every time I colour my hair, it's purple. And, I've got a fair amount of clothes that are some shade of purple, so I don’t think my favourite colour is blue.”
Notice how I spelled Stephanie’s words with the Canadian/British spelling? That’s so I spell it the way she said it. And, I’m laughing to myself as I write this. And, now you are, too.
“All right. What are we at?”
”15 16 17.”
”Do I have 15?”I asked.
”3 4 5.”
”Yeah,” said Stephanie.
“What is it that you most like about yourself?”
“I guess I’ve never thought about what I like about myself,” she seemed a little taken aback.
“I suppose that’s true for most,” I reflected. “If you were forced to do so what do you think you would say that you like about yourself? What would others say about you?”
“I think they would say I’m a very caring person. I like to take care of people.”
And, care she does – especially for her husband. Before she met him, a drunk driver hit Joel while he was riding his motorcycle. He suffered severe injuries, but has worked very hard in recovery and eventually returned to life and work. Recently, he was diagnosed with MS. The news was difficult for both of them, but they continue on. They even recently purchased their first home together.
“Caring for people is also why I like the job that I have. Most people don't like customer service jobs. I've always been in some sort of customer service. I like the challenge of it. I recently talked to a 93-year-old lady and I was able to keep her calm. She was panicking because her service wasn't working and then she was apologizing because she was a little bit slow in responding to what I was asking her to do. By the end of the call, she was laughing and thanking me and thinking I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. That’s why I love my job.”
We finished our game, but I’ll leave the outcome a mystery. That wasn’t the point anyway. As we moved those pegs around the cribbage board, Stephanie’s love for family and friends became evident. Her strength, surprising in many ways, allows her to meaningfully care for her loved ones. What’s more than that, she even cares for the stranger on the phone or the person across the table.
One of the sweetest things in life is a caring friend. And, that caring can be evident in small ways; in packages of candy bars sent from far away or a game of cribbage on a Saturday afternoon. It makes for the best sort of life.