I was playing cards with my little friend Isabella the other day. We were playing Old Maid.
You know the game: each person has a set of cards. You draw from the other player, and lay down the pairs that you find. Twos twos twos. There is a sense of anticipation every time a card is drawn from the other player’s hand. Who will pair up next?
Another pair, and another pair, and another pair. Each laid down, one right next to the other.
There was one card left in my hand at the end of the game. The Old Maid. The card had a picture an older woman surrounded by cats. Apparently cats are the only creatures that will live with single ladies that are mature in age.
Isabella pointed at me and said “Look Kate! You have the Old Maid! That means you are the loser.”
I didn’t know what to do with this statement, or with this game. I don’t usually mind losing games to five year olds. But I was a little more sensitive about losing this time. “Am I the loser?” I thought.
I decided to lean more about the history of the game. Here’s what I found out: it is a very old victorian game. There are versions around the world, many with different names. In Brazil, it goes by the flattering name Stink. The English version is called Scabby Queen, a name brings up even worse images than the picture of the American cat lady. And my personal favorite, the French version that is known as Le Pouilleux, which means the louse. Just in case you don’t know what that is, it’s a parasitic insect. Another word for louse is cootie. Awesome.
In my research, I also found pictures of some vintage Old Maid games. My favorite was a 1940‘s deck that had wonderful cartoons of very attractive curvy women. One woman was riding on an airplane. Another was surfing. A third looked like a successful business lady.
The Old Maid? A little old single lady, sitting in a rocking chair knitting, which is quite appropriate, since that is where the word spinster comes from. One who spins. It seems that single people who are a little older have nothing better to do than sit in a rocking chair and knit some booties for their favorite nephew.
A few weeks after this incident, I was playing another game with my ten year old friend, Collin. The Game Of Life. This game has versions of it dating all the way back to 1860. It has a track in which players move in little plastic cars through various life scenarios. Consequently, in the late 80’s the game changed the car from a convertible to a Chrysler-esque minivan.
“Wait a second.” I said to Collin. “What if I want a four wheel drive Subaru instead of a minivan?” Collin retorted “you have to have a mini van in the game of life.”
Well, I realized, it makes sense that you need to have decent leg space in your car, since you have to put your growing family in it.
This family is acquired towards the beginning of the game, when you hit a stop sign in front of a three dimensional chapel. It is here that you must get married and put a new blue or pink peg beside you in your minivan. I looked at Collin and said “Hey, what if I don’t want to get married? Or what if, by some crazy turn of circumstances, it just doesn’t happen for me?” Collin gave me a quizzical look and said, “You can’t do that Kate! You have to get married in the game of life.”
It’s true. I did. If I didn’t, I would be stuck at the beginning of the game. Forever. I gave in, but mostly because you get $5,000 worth of wedding gifts on the next space.
At the end of the game, the bank paid out money for various things. I wasn’t at all surprised that you received a decent amount for each child that you were able to raise in your minivan. It seems that in the game of life, he who dies with the most kids gets the most cash.
Really, Milton Bradley? Really?
These are some of the stereotypes that are placed in our minds at a very young age, and I admit I can relate to some of them. Like the Old Maid, I have seen my friends pair up two by two. I am not as old as she is, but I am in my thirties, which is pretty old to be single, especially in Christian circles. And yes, I do put my knitted creations on etsy.
But that’s where the similarities stop. I hate cats, I have many other things to do with my time than sit in a rocking chair, and I am really, honestly, not a loser.
Those are good signs that I am not really an Old Maid, right?
There are also things in The Game of Life that I can relate to. I often feel like society says to me “You’re not married? You don’t have children? How could you possibly ride around in your plastic car with one lonely plastic peg in it? Is there something wrong? Are you going to get stuck at the beginning of life and never move on to the rest of your game because of your singleness?”
At this point, I have no idea if I will ever get married. I have stopped trying to control it. I do know that I want to make a new game of life. One in which I can go anywhere I want to go, even if no one is with me in the plastic minivan.
Anyone else out there have childhood memories that made it feel like being married was the only thing that would bring happiness or value to your life?