My Tray Runneth Over

By guest blogger, Ellen Shanna Knoppow

H-A-R-O-S-E-T. I used my blank as an S, a 50-point bonus for a 7-letter word. Aren’t I clever? However, I couldn’t make it fit anywhere on the board. Such is life.

November 26, 2011
Last night up north and Dad’s 71st birthday. Susan and David dining in Traverse City, thankful for a night out alone. Papa Jerry and the boys on a pilgrimage to the diner, to rate chocolate malteds. That left Mom, me and my niece. (Name: Miriam. Age: 13. Claim to fame: Our novelist and fearless reader. “To Kill a Mockingbird”? That’s so 2007.)

Grandma Sharon had the idea to play an open-tray, no-score Scrabble game to teach Miriam strategy. Conserve your S’s! Save your blanks! Don’t leave the triple-letter score open! And, I told her, sometimes you just want to use a cool word, even if it’s not worth many points. I taught her “laity” and Mom taught her “civet.” We shared “ak” and “ka,” two two-letter words whose meanings escaped both of us. No matter: “’Ka…’ mused our young friend, “isn’t that, like, an ancient Egyptian spiritual entity?”

The day before, after a post-Black-Friday nap (saving money can be exhausting), I found a game already in progress. I volunteered my services as a consultant (giving back to the community is a tradition in my family). No takers. My older nephew faced a trayful of vowels: “aeiweeo!!!” He exploded. In laughter. Peals and peals of it, unable to stop. He rolled on the floor, with an inhibitionlessness that I envied. Weeks later, I’m glad it’s still in my ear. (Name: Sammy. Age: 11. Claim to fame: Would not stoop to using a calculator.)

His big sister, in her Scrabble debut, was clogged with consonants. She was very serious, and seriously upset. “What’s so funny?” she whined. And as you know, it’s not the content of the whine but the tone and pitch that are its essence.

Dear Susan,
It’s 1982. I know this because we are wearing Fair Isle sweaters. The wool is itchy, but that’s the price of conformity. We are playing our game, just you and me. I am winning. You do not like this. As the point spread grows, so too grows your pout, seasoned with whine. I am pleased with myself, but I feel guilty about making you unhappy. I employ my proven strategy, for my favorite audience: “What? Of course ‘imple’ is a word. You know, when an imp gets a pimple.” I can see your forehead relax. A half laugh…then…no dice. You get up and you leave me.

And today? There are no bitter verbs between us.

November 27, 2011
Early Sunday morning and my younger nephew is staring at the closed refrigerator door, his post-breakfast ritual. I don’t want to disturb him. “moon mango man says smile,” reads his magnetic creation. (Name: Josh. Age: 7. Claim to fame: Has had remarkable success teaching the dog piano.) We are preparing to leave; we know the drill: Pack, launder, round up the toys.  The scrabble tiles have been corralled and returned to their box, then placed in the overflowing wooden toy chest/coffee table where they reside with jenga and the rest.

Find your iPad, fill the water bottles, empty the wastebasket. And a plea from our host, “Will someone please take home the leftover cranberry sauce?” Before saying goodbye and thanking my gracious parents, I reflect on the past five days with the people I love the most, and ask myself this question: If I take an English muffin to eat in the car, should I toast it first?

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