March 11, 2013

A Canuck in Kantuck: Marching up the cribbage board

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — For the past several weeks, that tender hour after work but before dinner has been spent with the game of cribbage. After my husband got sick, his sister Teresa dropped by with the cribbage board, a rectangular piece of wood punctured with a lot of holes.

After five days in a sick bed with Yahtzee and Battleship, the board called to us with increasing frequency so in early February, we pulled up the rules for cribbage on the Internet and got to work learning them. We were addicted immediately, and for Valentine’s this year, I bought a simple, walnut board as my gift to my husband.

You’d be surprised to learn just how many types of cribbage boards are on the market, ones in the shape of everything from canoes to golf courses to fish. But I went for the classic rectangle with the fun little hatch hidden in the bottom to carry the pegs.

I had fond memories of watching the men — my dad, uncle Leo, my grandma’s boyfriend Elmer — play cribbage on a similar board at my grandma’s house when I was a kid. Too young to understand the game, I was mostly just obsessed with plunking the colorful plastic pegs into the holes and pulling them out again.

Upon learning to play the game as an adult, it quickly became painfully clear just how bad I am at math. The game requires some very basic skills using addition, most of which involve coming up with various ways to get to the number 15. If you have cards that add up to 15, you see, you get to move ahead two spaces on the cribbage board. Since you can use five cards, there is the potential for various combinations.

But while my husband William immediately sees the combinations upon picking up his cards, I stare hard and try to remember if 8 plus 5 equals 13 or 14.

I can tell you that being exceptionally bad at math is actually quite embarrassing. I would imagine it’s akin to having to read out loud in class when you stumble rather than flow over the words. I’m lucky to not have that problem, but when it comes to math, it’s as if I have to push through a rubbery barrier every time I have to figure out a calculation. I find squinching my eyes shut and holding my breath usually helps me get a little closer to the answer, but it’s not fun and it’s not relaxing.

However, so far, I’ve had exceptional luck at winning at cribbage so, despite the mathematical deficit, I’m fully committed to playing.

When we play, we use the pack of cards we got while on a trip to St. Lucia. The trip was about eight years ago, but we still consider it the best vacation we’ve ever taken. We had decided to book it a day before we actually left, with our flight taking off the morning of New Year’s Day. Four hours later, we were in the Caribbean at this lovely resort called Ti Kaye. Upon checking in, they swooped our bags away to our little cabin and sent us directly to the bar, which lived under a grass hut. There they presented us with two rum punches topped with a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg.

The trip was a dream, filled with afternoons spent on the beach, flower petals on the bed spread every time we came back to the room after our morning walk, and wonderful meals. We even met friends, Andy and Claudia from England, who dazzled us with their accents. Along the way, we picked up this pack of cards and at night we’d play a few rounds of rummy under the mosquito netting surrounding our bed.

Shuffling the cards and looking at the tropical design on the front of them, I am keenly aware of how much our lives have changed. As my husband copes with his external defibrillator and our once famous martini happy hour is replaced with a very stern glass of wine, St. Lucia is very far away indeed. But as we play another round, I try to remind myself that this too shall pass. And as we march forward on our cribbage board, so thankfully does Time.


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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
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