Once a month for over 40 years, seven of us have gathered around a poker table from 7:30 until 11, drinking beer, eating, smoking, joking and praising or cursing the card gods.
There have been significant transitions over the years. The cold cuts and the smoking went years ago. Blue Ribbon Beer has been replaced by specialty brews. In the early days, the host would get a case of beer to insure not running dry but now two six-packs will do. When some of us began to have trouble reading the cards, we switched to the jumbo size. In the early days, it was a common practice to extend the 11 p.m. cut time; now, it is not uncommon for somebody to suggest at about 10:25 that we make this the last round. Jokes about memory loss continue to be less common than jokes about sex, but the spread narrows.
Over time, the grim reaper has made room for new blood. Son-in-law Greg and his friend, Mike, both of whom started as fill-ins, are now the new yeast.
The stakes are relatively small but the testosterone in the room is still strong enough to guarantee competitive play.
So. What are the points of poker-playing that can be applied to the game of life?
• To get a seat at the table, you have to buy some chips. An investment is required.
• Keeping your seat requires accommodations. Larger cards, less beer, shorter hours. At 80, you can't manage everything the way you did even 20 years ago. Admit it and take the necessary steps to stay in play.
• The empty chair next to you is a reminder that yes indeed it seems that we are all going to die. That awareness sweetens the day.
• Knowing when to fold your cards is crucial to being around for another game.
• We are social animals and need to be out and about. Connecting with others, sharing our stories, arguing and supporting one another.
• The incorporation of younger players expands our horizons, ensures not being totally surrounded by all those old farts.
• The cost/benefit ratio of a given pot has to be considered. There are times in life when a small bet on a large pot is worth the gamble and vice-versa.
• And, the most important lesson is that even this late in the evening, there are decisions to be made, options and accommodations to be exercised. Pay attention.
Shuffle and deal the cards.
Kent Miller is an emeritus professor of psychology at Florida State University. He writes about the challenges of being 80-something. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.