Sunday, September 21, 2014


Libby loved playing the game Life. After school or in the summer, she would come over to my house and we’d lay out the game board in my living room. The official rules never did suit Libby – she wanted more options, more control - so early on she changed them. Sometimes I think Libby almost viewed the game as a distant cousin of the Ouija board. For her it was just another portal into the future, whatever happed to her tiny car as it moved from one space on the board to the next was an indication of what she could expect in her own life. Therefore, her rules were designed to always ensure that she got what she so desperately wanted. Getting married became an option. If you didn’t want to stop, you could keep going right passed the chapel. However, if you did get married you had to announce where you were spending your honeymoon. Libby, a proud Italian-American, almost always went to Italy. Libby wanted lots of children, and since she never had enough when she played by the real rules, she designed various other ways to pick up kids along the way – I wish I still remembered what they were. Each kid, of course needed a name, and you weren’t allowed to spin unless you gave them one. It didn’t matter what the board dictated, you weren’t suck with a girl if you really wanted a boy, which was good since Libby always wanted a car full of boys with one girl – Grace. I have no memory of what we named any of the other kids that came our way, but Libby always named her girl Grace. If she had a daughter someday, that’s what she was going to name her.   And she was going to be a doctor. She wanted to be a doctor as much as I wanted to play basketball, and if the spinner didn’t land on the proper number early on so that she could earn her doctor degree, she found ways to change her profession too.  Libby had her entire life mapped out, she only needed the game to confirm that it would unfold according to plan. At the end of each game, which she generally won – it’s kind of hard to beat someone who keeps changing the rules according to their whims – she was generally satisfied. Life was good and with a car full of kids and a bank full of money it was hard not to be happy. The problem was the game didn’t have any spaces marked, “You died an unfair death and are now eliminated from the game.”  But then again, even if the game did include such a space, Libby would have found a way around it. Death in the game would have been a choice, and she would have opted out of it – most of us would. But when the car she was sitting in careened out of control and crashed into a guard rail there was no way out.  In the game of Life, you can sit in the driver’s seat of your own car, Libby never even got her license. The last car she ever sat in was her brother’s. And at twenty-four, she had not been married nor did ever have the opportunity to have a little girl named Grace.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pirate Island

            My son loves pirates. He is fascinated by them and believes that they have buried treasure  up and down the entire Long Island coast. There is a beach in Peconic that my family loves to visit.  It sits right on the creek and it is perfect for swimming and kayaking.  Even though it is more accurately a peninsula, my son has decided that the beach on the other side of the creek is an island.  Our first visit there this summer, he insisted on visiting the “island,” which he dubbed Pirate Island, so that he could search for treasure, convinced that pirates had buried it somewhere in the sand.  My mother, not wanting to disappoint him, had taken a few pennies and wrapped them in aluminum foil, torn from our lunches.  My son and I crossed the creek in kayak, carrying a shovel with us, and while my parents distracted him, looking for treasure in one direction, I disappeared the opposite way, dug three holes and deposited the treasure.  Covering each cache with driftwood or dried reeds shaped in the letter X, I set off to find my son and redirect his attention.  Finding the Xs in the sand, he was excited. Uncovering the treasure he was ecstatic.
            Later that same week, my mother stopped into a craft store in search of wooden treasure boxes.  Finding three tiny ones, she purchased them for my son’s next adventure.  When we next headed off to Pirate Island, my dad filled the boxes with pennies and again I buried them while my son searched elsewhere for the telltale Xs that would indicate a pirate’s presence.
            “He’s got to know that you’re the one hiding them,” my dad insisted as my son enthusiastically uncovered the treasure and counted the coins. But if he knew, he showed no indication or disappointment that it wasn’t the work of real pirates.
While my son loves the concept of looking for buried treasure, he is not very good at actually spotting the Xs that have grown bigger over the course of the summer.  Dad usually walks ahead and when he spies the X he stands stiffly, leaning over the mark waiting for my son to see him.  If the treasure is buried too deeply, my son hands off the shovel to someone else. I learned that lesson once after digging too deeply – nearly to the water level - thinking it would somehow enhance the anticipation and excitement.  I was dreadfully mistaken.
            As the summer progressed, we played the game repeatedly and each time my son was thrilled to add several pennies to the jar in which he was saving up to buy some more Legos.  However, on his second to last excursion, he expressed some regret that the pirates were only burying pennies instead of gold doubloons.  So on our last outing, hoping to compensate for not possessing any real doubloons, my father ensured that instead of pennies my son would find dollar bills.  This time my little pirate was delighted with his finds because now he finally had enough money for a trip to the toy store to buy his beloved Legos.