The Sunday Routine
The board game is at least fifty years old. And each time I open it, I remember Grandma: her cookies, her giggle when she won at cards, her screwdriver drinks, the Broncos, and Scrabble.
My grandmother Mildred was a fixture at our house every Sunday when I was growing up. After church, we would pick her up from her apartment close to downtown Ft. Collins and bring her home. If my dad cooked, it was on Sunday morning when he prepared scrambled eggs and Jimmy Dean sausage to go with mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls. My mother would begin to make a large batch of cookies, or put a pot roast in for dinner. Breakfast was a time for sharing our stories of school and catching Grandma up on our lives.
On baking days, my brothers and I loved to sneak cookies out from underneath Grandma’s watchful eye. We always won, and from the corner of Grandma’s mouth, a smile would form and her gentle chiding would let us know that a few cookies were enough.
Grandma was the only baker I knew who had mastered double layer baking without a timer. She had a four cookie sheet system that none could beat. One cookie sheet would go into the oven on the bottom rack while she scooped cookie dough onto the second sheet. When it was time, the second sheet took its place on the bottom rack and the first sheet moved to the top. By the time the cookies were cooling on the first cookie sheet, the fourth would be getting balls of dough. It was a legitimate cookie factory, where enough cookies were made to last three growing children and friends a month. We stored our cookies in one pound coffee cans, and put them all in the freezer. When we came home from school, the coffee can would be out and 3 cookies would be in our hands before homework was tackled. No Oreo could compare to the home baked love in those chocolate chip cookies, even frozen ones. And the oatmeal raisin cookies bursting with cinnamon would win out over chocolate on some days. What was really amazing was that Grandma never burned cookies, using only the timer in her head. I always remember her on days when I am adventuresome yet unsuccessful and a batch of my cookies ends up burnt and in the trash.
On a regular basis, our family engaged in the friendly banter of cards. 31 and 99 were Grandma’s favorite games. My dad would fix a batch of screwdrivers or margaritas (virgin for the kids) and that was Grandma’s fuel, along with some baked treat and apples, for our wonderful games. I loved watching Grandma get excited about having the right cards to withstand her opponents; a king for 99, a ten to subtract, a nine to pass, a four to reverse. Back and forth the intense lobby went until someone would forget to pick up a card, and the hand was over. Grandma would giggle like a school girl after winning a whole pile of nickels. It wasn’t like she spent them because they would be back out the next week, sometimes as my own ante, ready for another game.
There were times when life was too busy for all of us to sit down and play cards, and on those days, Grandma and I would play scrabble. I think she got better as the years went by, sometimes even better after a second screwdriver. She willingly put up with my three letter words while she would get bonus points for using all her letters. Although I occasionally won, it was only because Grandma helped me get my “X” and “Q” on a triple score. I remember the soft gentle touch of her hand on mine, the elegant look of her long fingers as she helped me place tiles on the board. She was an amazing player, practicing during the week on her own, playing two hands against each other. Mom and Dad finally bought Grandma a deluxe edition with a swivel board, and after she died, her old board game fell into my hands.
On school nights, while the girls are studying, Tony and I will often pour some wine and get out the Scrabble tiles. The dictionary is close by as we learn the two letter words and the strategies to get higher counts on the tiles. I used to beat Tony, but now he is beating me to the triple scores, and has even played all of his tiles for bonus points. Sometimes during the day, when I need a break from work, I will pick up the tiles for two hands and play by myself. I often wonder if Grandma is watching from heaven, prodding me and leading me to rearrange my letters into new adventuresome words. Just maybe if I had one of Grandma’s love laced oatmeal raisin cookies, I could use all seven tiles at once. No matter. The sight of the old maroon board and the feel of the tiles in my hand remind me of my beloved beautiful grandmother Mildred who loved games, who drank a Sunday screwdriver, and who baked the best cookies in the whole world.