It’s game night at Karl and Joice’s and the Hardin family are here: Mike and Karol, Kirsten, aged 15, Evan, who is 13 and Cam, the youngest, at age 11. Pretzel, the family dachshund is also here, but won’t be playing. He will be under the table or around Evan and Karl, waiting for the stray piece of food.

There will be preliminaries before the feast Joice has prepared. Kirsten settles on to one sofa, Mike on the other. She is soon reading volume 16 of the Encyclopedia Britannica, having completed volume 15 this afternoon. She has given herself two weeks to read the whole set.

Mike has fallen asleep with Pretzel on his lap. He is not really sleeping—he responds to comments and has an ethereal feel for what is going on around him.

Evan has commandeered my chair and is spread out all over it, his legs and arms in unusual contortions. He has my I-pad and is looking up the latest sports news—he has been off electronic gadgets at home because of his latest round of disobedience. He has trouble hearing when his dad or mom speak to him suggesting some “useless” chore, something that “none of my friends have to do”.

Cam is reading the Far Side and Calvin and Hobbs (at the same time) and making comments about them as he reads. “Hey, dad, listen to this one…”: “Hey, mom, look at this one…” His voice is loud, resembling a train passing by, so he gets everyone’s attention. “Be quiet Cam, we can hear you!” “Quit shouting Cam, do you think we are deaf?”

I am wandering around the room and kitchen, afraid that at any moment Joice or Karol will complain to me about the room temperature, that the dog needs out, the corn husked, or the glasses filled with water. “And put plenty of ice in them”, I am reminded. “Just because you don’t like much ice doesn’t mean that other people don’t”. It will be a long evening.

Karol is finishing up her 25th load of wash for today. Their kitchen and laundry are torn up and being remodeled, so she has been washing clothes here for the last two or three days. I have found socks everywhere: some actually in the laundry basket.

We have all eaten one of Joice’s mammoth meals (meat loaf, sweet potato, corn, 11 other vegetables, bread, beans, salads), so we are drowsy and in good humor, waiting for the dessert—fruit of all kinds, ice cream, whipping cream, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, peach cobbler, various pies and cakes, and whatever else has met her fancy. The boys have had a Dr Pepper and Kirsten a Root Beer Suds, so there will be more than the occasional burp as well.

To regress slightly, I admit that I taught them to burp, but I never imagined that I would be so successful. Evan can now do 26 syllables and Cam 21. They can’t yet burp the alphabet like I can but they are trying.

Supper is over, the table is cleared, the dishes are in the dishwasher, the remains of food are refrigerated, so it is time for the games. On the table are Scrabble, Bananas—a kind of Two-up, which is in turn a kind of scrabble, but much messier. There are also two decks of cards, Rack-o and Rummikub available. Off to the side are checkers and chess, and the drawing pads. They will used later on for the boys will soon tire of games.

Evan, of course, doesn’t want to play in the first place. “Rack-o is dumb and I hate Rummikub”, he intones from his prone position on the chair. “Well, come and play Bananas”, grandma pleads. “No, I always lose, I never win. I want to play Gin Rummy with dad”. Evan loves Gin Rummy and keeps an accumulative score over his opponents. He is ahead of me now by 1,203 points and his dad by 25. Neither Cam, Kirsten, nor his mom will play with him.

“Come on Kirsten, you can finish that volume later tonight.” And she will—in her bedroom with her headlight on. She wipes a tear, glances furtively at the book and comes to the game table. She takes her place quietly, ignoring the rude comments from Evan and Cam.

Cam is ready for any game, especially Rack-o, in which he has been known to line up 15 cards in a row, which is outstanding in that the rack only holds 10. Cam also likes Rummikub but claims that his grandma always beats him. “You are so good grandma”, he says. Grandma replies, “Would you like another Dr Pepper and a Twizzer?” His mom, however, is hesitant, somewhat disapproving and says “Ask your dad.” Dad opens one eye, looks up briefly and replies “Whatever your mom says.” Grandma wins.

The games begin. Evan has detached himself from the chair and is eagerly eyeing his Gin Rummy hand, ready to drown his father with negative points.

Karol and Joice obviously enjoy the Bananas game. It is something like Scrabble but with enough differences to get a patent. Each player draws 21 tiles and when they are overturned the “fun” begins. Players yell “peel” and “dump” and other Banana words and complain about getting the Q and J, too many vowels, and answer Cam’s questions like, “Is hmalvk a word?”

The games go on for an hour or two until Karl notices that the temperature is too cold for him. Karol thinks it is too hot and the discussion clearly shows that neither will win, but that the games will be over.

Mike and Evan stagger out the door with five large tubs of clean clothes, enough to last 3 days at least. Karol holds the door open.

Cam and Joice pick up the games. Kirsten is reading volume 16 as she goes out the door.

Karl is already in bed.