Marolt: Spelling out holiday tradition from a blind draw of memories
I write this week’s column risking being mistaken for a fan of board games, and I’m not talking about “boards” as a euphemism for skis. The board games I refer to include things like die and spinners on Thanksgiving weekends when families and friends come together and need something to bridge the gap between skiing and eating.
This summer we got hooked one rainy weekend confined in a mountain cabin on a game called “Settlers of Catan.” I describe it as “instant cage match” or “minute fight” — just add beer. Every advantage you earn in that game comes at the expense of another player in a humiliating way. It’s all about the accumulation of massive resources in a world so finite that it fits into an easy-to-carry box. It is evilly designed so that every match is a race to the finish by all players. The only people who can safely play this game without risking an emotional aneurysm are Vulcans, who aren’t really people. Is that politically correct on an inter-terrestrial basis? Nevermind.
In the old days when we used to get decent snow by Thanksgiving, we still didn’t have good skiing on opening weekend. There was no such thing as snowmaking machines and we didn’t have gondolas allowing us to ski the deeper snow on top of the mountain. Making things worse, we didn’t have very good snowcats. Early season grooming operations back then were the equivalent of shaving peach fuzz with a push mower.
The only terrain open on Thanksgiving was West Buttermilk. What it lacked in snow it made up for with flat, rockless, boring pastureland that required little edging to stay under control on. A little snow there goes a long way, which is more than anyone who skis there can say about their attention span.
We had lots of visitors from Texas and since there was only one very slow lift running Thanksgiving weekend, there were extremely long lift lines full of folks from the Lone Star State. After sharing the slopes with them all morning, avoiding collisions and heinous assaults on the English language, the last thing anyone wanted was to go home and digest turkey while watching the Cowboys play football; made worse by the fact that the Cowboys were actually good at playing football then, believe it or not.
Really, the only thing to do was drink wine or play Scrabble. Really smart people did both at the same time. Scrabble is not a fighting man or woman’s game. It is for thinkers and drinkers and quasi-intellectuals looking for an opportunity to show off with the aim of passively humiliating friends by frequently using exclamations like, “Well lookey there!” and laying out words across the board normally reserved for doctoral theses and later rounds of the state spelling bee.
I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. What I am about to tell you will make you believe I am holding a grudge that has withstood the test of time and generations. It is not that this assessment wouldn’t be true. However, a squabble of that duration amounts to a limp handshake for Marolts who have been known to not speak to each other until Christmas after a Thanksgiving debate about whether margarine contains a yellow additive to make it look more like butter.
That said, one Thanksgiving eve while playing Scrabble after a lousy day of skiing on West Buttermilk while the Cowboys game played in the background, I spelled out “sprtizer” on my first move of the game with the “z” landing on the triple letter square, pretty much clinching the victory with more than an hour left to play in the game.
Just then, my great-aunt Polly shuffled by and looked over my shoulder. A grammar school teacher at the previous turn of the century, she remarked, “I don’t think ‘spritzer’ is a word.”
Well the only dictionary in the house was one given to us by her that predated the Civil War and, of course, “spritzer” wasn’t in it. Everyone at the table knew it was a word in 1990, but we didn’t yet have the Internet to prove it and had to rely on a dusty old book instead.
Victory was stolen. We have argued about the incident every Thanksgiving since. Family folklore was born. I hope my great grandchildren will be able to laugh about it.
Roger Marolt enjoys every form of the usual suffering that comes with the holidays. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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