The Place: New Years Eve 1974 at the family home and parsonage of Rev. and Mrs. Samuels’ in the small town of Rocksville on the outskirts of a metropolitan city. A parsonage, it must be noted, conjures the vision of a tiny cottage sufficient for a minister and his family, generally sparse, although comfortable. However, this place outpaced such a vision in nearly every possible way.
Stick Chick recalls the details as if it were yesterday.
Seated squarely on the corner of the church property, the three-story stone affair houses not only the minister and his family, but plays host to visitors including the local bishop and his family or travelers who come to provide various musical and ecclesiastical performances which the church occasionally requires. Its walls speak of having provided for the emergency needs of parishioners and neighbors alike, and no doubt some needy families occupied a bedroom or two up on the third floor during the Great Depression. Especially notable are its deep wooden porches set midway on each floor with a door to rooms on either end and a set of French doors that open outward from the middle bedrooms.
The minister’s office is just off the front entrance so that parishioners may come and go without intruding upon the daily lives of his family. There, volumes of books, a large solid wood desk, and a thick oriental rug absorb all sound and light.
The rest of the house breathes. Its oak floors and plaster walls that stretch to meet nine foot ceilings reflect all sound. From the front entrance one can see the main staircase leading upward, the upper landing obscured from view. Ahead and to the right of the staircase, the living and dining room echo the past, covered in yellowing wallpaper with green leaves. There is a side entrance under the staircase leading directly into the living space. The small farmhouse kitchen with the tiniest breakfast table wedged into the corner between the radiator and the pantry door sits behind the dining room.
The second floor hallway runs alongside the central main staircase and another staircase that leads to the third floor. When the children hurry upstairs to settle their belongings, sound resonates like a herd of camels attempting to traverse the stairs with much shoving and shuffling, clomping and banging. The open balustrade allows light to filter into the massive hallway ahead with doors leading into unknown places, just one is completely off-limits. Another, a “secret” back staircase which doubles as storage for dutch ovens, dry goods, and double boilers leads down into the tiny kitchen.
A spacious single bathroom on the second floor contains a claw foot tub, toilet, and wall hung sink with separate spigots for hot and cold water which immediately make Stick Chick anxious. Washing one’s hands by alternatively twisting one chrome cross handle then the other in an effort to switch from hot to cold risks scalding if performed incorrectly. More importantly, the lack of a shower head and curtain surrounding the tub informs her to expect a bath only, and to check that the door locked to ensure no intrusion upon a modest, pubescent girl.
The good Reverend’s wife invited the Stick Chick clan to a 24 hour spate to usher in the new year. They know how to throw a party. From dinner time until about 10 PM, a steady stream of visitors, parishioners, and all manner of well-wishers drop by the open house to eat copious amounts of ring bologna, mini-meatballs, assorted fruits and vegetables, and cheeses, and to share a drink to toast the coming year.
The older teens, who had been out with friends, arrive home begrudgingly by their 10 o’clock curfew to celebrate the night with family. The kids rush to the basement to play board games and listen to GoodBye Yellow Brick Road through the scratchy speakers of the portable record player while happily noshing on bread dipped in cheese fondue, ridged potato chips smothered in homemade onion dip, pigs in a blanket, and fresh fruit dipped in chocolate.
By 11:00, the guests have left and only the Reverend and Stick Chick’s families remain. They all gather on the living room floor. The Reverend, known for his story and joke-telling ability, regales the group with one after another until it is time to play Spoons and to sip on Pink Pussycats.
Pink Pussycats: blended beverage consisting of Dekuyper buttershots schnapps, Tequila Rose strawberry liqueur, and ice OR gin, pineapple juice, grenadine, and ice depending on who you ask. Stick Chick recalls it looked a lot like this (except more like a strawberry milkshake, slushier, and without the separation.)
The Players: Gramps and Nana Stick, Stick Chick, the Gum Chewer, and Blondie, Rev. and Mrs. Samuels, Smiley, Clown and Spike.
Spoons: A card/spoon game of strategy, luck, and (if played correctly) side-splitting laughs. Best played with 8-10 people, but no less than four. A simple game, spoons requires little skill (thus the laughs.) On the other hand, cunning, scrappiness, and a competitive nature help to level the playing field between young and old, smart and naïve, the strategist and the free-spirited.
Supplies: A full deck of jumbo playing cards and one less spoon than the number of players.
Object of each round: be the first player to obtain four-of-a-kind (ex: four Jacks). Loser of each round gets one letter of the word SPOON. Once a player has lost five rounds thus having spelled “S-P-O-O-N”, he or she is out of the game. Play continues until one player, a winner, remains.
Preparation: Shuffle deck of cards. As rounds progress, players in succession each take one turn as dealer. Dealer distributes four cards face down to each player. Players hold their cards, reviewing for contents. Dealer places remaining cards in a single stack, face down in his or her easy reach. This is the draw pile. Center spoons within the circle of players.
Play Begins: Dealer draws the first card from the draw pile, and determines whether to keep it or to pass it (or a different card from his or her hand) to the player to the immediate left. Once passed face down, dealer draws another card and both dealer and the next player draw a card.
No player may hold more than 4 cards at any time.
Draw – Decide – Pass
Both look at their drawn card(s) with an aim to collect 4 of a kind. Play continues in this manner as all players participate in succession. Once any one player has collected 4 of a kind, he or she may grab one spoon from the center either covertly or with great flair and fanfare according to personal preference. Once a single spoon is withdrawn, all other players may grab a single spoon regardless of the cards they hold. The player who fails to retrieve a spoon gets a letter “S,” and a new round begins with a new dealer.
Five minutes before midnight the game stops when the box of hats and noisemakers becomes a well of merriment in preparation for the countdown to the new year.
The Moral: The minister was not defrocked, the parents were not jailed, no one drove, the kids did not get sloppy drunk, but they did stay up until 4AM, high on sugar, jokes, and revelry. It was New Year’s Eve and everyone slept in, had pancakes for breakfast, and life felt good.
*In memory of the Reverend.