“Success comes from taking the hand you were dealt and using it to the very best of your ability.” (Ty Boyd)
I really enjoy playing cards. Since I was a child I have had a few staple games that I have played. I started with the most basic game, war, and then learned others. In my life I have played many different games including poker, black jack, spades, crazy 8s, Uno, gin, and many more. I have spent hundreds of hours playing with family and friends. In recent years the game of choice has been euchre because of its speed, but in my mind the granddaddy of all card games is pinochle.
Pinochle was the game of choice for my mom and my godparents. I can remember sitting at my kitchen table for hours watching them play. At first I was just a silent spectator who didn’t understand they game. They played 3-handed cut throat with a single deck. The games were t0 150. As I got older I was taught how to play, but not yet allowed in their game. I remember sitting next to my godfather as he would be dealt a hand and played.
In pinochle, as with any game, it is easy to win when you are dealt a great hand. If you have a run, aces around, and have plenty of trump, then bidding and playing your hand is a simple matter of following a road map. Sitting next to my godfather I learned that to win your share, you have to be able to be dealt relative junk, and make it work.
I would watch as he would run up the bid on what I thought was garbage. He would get the kitty, and it would help marginally. Then he would work his magic and turn a mediocre hand into a winner.
Reflecting back, that was really a metaphor for his life. He wasn’t dealt a great hand in life. He was part of a large family of children who were broken up and put in an orphanage. He was pulled out of the orphanage as a youth to work on a farm where he had to earn his keep. He told stories how every fall he would fill a sack with corn husks to be his bed for the next year, and how awful the dust became as that year progressed. He told of back breaking labor in the hot sun. But always when he told the stories it was with a smile. It was never with disdain for his past or heavy complaining.
His childhood included living through the Great Depression. As he grew into adulthood he worked jobs that took long hours, eventually ending up as a baker for a neighborhood bakery. Long before the days when Reality TV glamorized the job, being a baker meant rising at 2:00am and driving in to work to make the bread, donuts and pastries for the day. People would be stopping on the way to their jobs, and the goods had to be ready.
He worked hard at work and at home. He and his wife (my godmother), owned a beautiful home and raised three fine children. They were known for miles around as the house with the perfect landscape, even though they never paid a dime to a gardener or landscaping company. It was through their own toil and sweat that their house looked like one that today would be featured on Pinterest. They weren’t looking to be ostentatious, they just took pride in what they had and made the most of it.
I remember stories he would tell about how the soil around some of his gardens wasn’t quite right for what he wanted to grow there. He could have just chosen to grow something else, but instead he carefully groomed the soil over a period of years until it produced the flowers or vegetables of his choice.
Whether at the card table, in the heat of the bakery, or the sun of the garden, my godfather was the master at playing the hand he was dealt.
Today I look around me and I see so many people who complain about their circumstances. They look to blame others, or the government. They look for handouts and help, while squandering themselves and the opportunities before them. More people need to have the attitude and work ethic of my godfather.
The hand I was dealt in life was not one that had a road map for playing it to success. And to be sure, I have misplayed parts of the hand at times. When I want inspiration on how to take what has been given me and make the most of it, I have many models to follow. At the head of the line is my god father and all that he accomplished in his life.