Sep 19, 2013 0 Share

Go Fish, Go Figure


Hand holding four playing cards, all of which say "Joker."
Thinkstock

It's surprising how much fun it is to sit around playing cards. It seems to me the quintessential vacation activity in that it doesn't serve a purpose. It's not productive in the same way that a bike ride or a swim in the pool is productive; in those instances, you can justify the activity by saying that it's exercise. Cards, on the other hand, are frivolous. Or so I thought, before my brother, aunt, and I dove into Go Fish.  

“Willie, do you have any … threes?” I ask. 

“No, I don't have any threes, Caroline! Go fish!” he says, with a big smile. 

Now it's Willie's turn. “Aunt Kathy, do you have any … jacks?” he asks. 

Our aunt takes pause, and so do I. Four jacks are already on the table, so Willie can't possibly have one. I glance over at his hand; sure enough, there's nary a jack in sight. (One of Willie's weaknesses as a card player is that he can't resist tipping his hand out for the world to see. Since I'm sitting next to him, I see every card.) 

“Willie … do you have any jacks?” I ask, testing to see whether or not he'll tell the truth. 

“No,” he says, with a burst of of bubbling laughter. When I detect a gleam in his eye, the facts add up: Willie's playing us. My brother is very clever, and it's sometimes hard to know how much he knows. It's not always easy to discern whether or not he grasps the rules of the game … or if he does know, but is choosing to ignore them for fun. Willie has been known to come downstairs with his shirt on backwards and inside out, and his shoes on the wrong feet. When one of us notices and says, “Willie! That shirt is on inside out,” he cracks up laughing. He's perfectly capable of dressing himself, but the trickster in him loves to play pranks. Clearly, this is someone capable of cheating at cards. 

Yet it's also possible that he's pretending to break the rules, when in reality, he doesn't know them. My brother and I are alike in this way. When we have no idea what we're doing, we're tempted to save face and act like we were purposefully making a mistake rather than admit our ignorance. 

I decide to explain the rules, just in case he really doesn't know them. “Willie my dear, if you ask someone else for a card, you need to have that card already in your hand. So, if you don't have any jacks, you can't ask another person to give you a jack. If you do have jacks, then you can ask someone else for more jacks. Okay?” 

“Okay,” he says, grinning. He's still giddy from his trick. 

And as I hear myself explaining Go Fish to my brother, I think: Wow. The way this game works is actually pretty profound. You can't offer what you don't have to give. And it's okay to say no; moreover, it's necessary. Honesty is the important thing. Without honesty, the game doesn't work at all. 

As we continue, I notice that this simple game—with its bedrock of honesty—makes me feel simultaneously uncomfortable and liberated. It's strange for me, a people-pleaser, to say no to my loved ones so many times in a row. It's bizarre to realize that, in most cases, I can't give them what they're asking for. And yet it's also tremendously freeing, because when I say no … nothing bad happens! No one gets mad. No one gets hurt. The game carries on. When I say that I don't have a card, the people I love go straight to a different resource—the community pile. I don't have to save the day. I can just be here with my family, offering what I do have to give.  

In the end, both Willie and I have four sets of four cards. When I realize we've tied for the win, I exclaim, “It's a sibling sweep!” I hold up my hand for a high-five, and Willie slaps it, gently grazing my palm.