I have to admit that when my neighbor asked me to join the new poker group she was starting, I had my doubts. The group was going to meet one Friday night a month, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to add another standing commitment to our already too-full calendar. Even more concerning, I was going to be the only member of the group who actually knew how to play poker, which meant it would be my job to teach everyone else how to play.
My first inclination was to say no. My second inclination was to say yes, and then explain that poker always has to be played for money, and that it was a good idea for everyone to bring their valuable jewelry and car titles so that they would have something to bet if their money ran out. (Did I mention I was the only one who knew how to play?) Luckily, I went with the third option, which was to agree to join the group and teach everyone how to play, and to play only for the little plastic chips that are handed out before each session. I do have a few finer instincts left.
My father taught me to play poker when I was five years old, and my in-laws play poker at almost every family gathering, so I am very comfortable with the game. But I quickly found out that teaching other people how to play is not always so easy. A typical exchange goes something like this:
Me: “Okay, now that I’ve dealt the cards, you can either bet, fold (quit that hand) or check the bet (wait to see what the bet is without quitting the hand). We start with the person to the left of the dealer and go around the table.”
Debby: “I check the bet.”
Sandra: “I bet one.”
Paula: “I check the bet.”
Me: “You can’t check the bet, because Sandra bet one. So now you have to either bet one, raise, or fold.”
Paula: “But you let Debby check the bet.”
Me: “That’s because nobody had bet yet.”
Paula: “But I want to check the bet.”
Me: “You can’t check the bet.”
Paula: “Why do you hate me?”
And so it goes…. But we muddle along, with me slowly learning to be a better teacher and the others slowly mastering the game. I suppose we might give up if the whole point of the evening was just to play poker, but of course, it isn’t. Between arguments about who is and isn’t allowed to “check the bet” we spend a lot of time talking and laughing, catching up on each other’s lives and just plain enjoying each other’s company.
With every gathering, we are getting to know each other a little better. We feel comfortable telling the truth about our families, both the proud moments and the painful ones, knowing that we will get nothing but support in return. We talk about the things we’re happy we’ve accomplished, and the dreams that we are still hoping will come true some day. And in between the friendly banter, the serious talk, the eating and the drinking, and the occasional hand of poker, the evenings just fly by.
I’m so glad that my neighbor started this group and invited me to be a part of it. I’m even happier that I didn’t decide I was too busy to join. Sometimes being middle aged means feeling that we are already doing all that we can do, and don’t have room to add more friends, more commitments, more new anything, and that’s a shame. Because there is always something new that is worth the time, if we are just willing to give it a chance. I took the risk on poker night, and that’s a bet that paid off, big time.