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Spite and Malice or Cat and Mouse – a Legacy

playing cards - queens

Some of my children were home this past week to celebrate Thanksgiving.  We had a lovely dinner and walk and enjoyed some very good conversation.

My girls all like to play games and I like the conversations that emerge while playing; the quips and laughter that follow.   I asked that we honor my Mother’s would be 97th birthday by playing a full round of SPITE and MALICE.

Each in their turn, my Mother faithfully taught my daughters to play this favorite card game.   I liked it because it kept numbers happening before their eyes.   While playing, my Mother shared her wisdom and did lots of problem-solving.   I think she also liked collecting the stories about when I was messing up as a parent, or when I was handling something in an innovative way, and she also reassured them that maybe I had good and loving intentions behind my actions.

Each in their turn, they went to my Mother’s home and cleaned on Saturdays.  Then they helped her make a family dinner, set the table, and shuffle the decks of cards for our game after dinner when dishes were put away.   In trade, they each got a hundred dollars a month while in college as her thanks for their care of her.

SPITE and MALICE taught us how to make the luck of the draw work for us, how to subtly block another player, and how to finesse a loss.   There was lots of time for the conversation to flow.

One deck more than the number of players, draw to start your turn, keep your mind tuned into what the other players are laying down, and Kings are wild.

After my Mother  turned 90 and just before she turned 91, she fell bending over to the refrigerator and fractured her back.   Every joint in her body was bone on bone.   It took a number of weeks to get her into the hospital for pain relieving surgery and then the Doctors put her on lots of medications which slowed her down, made her sleepy, and I am sure shortened her life (Her own mother lived to 96 and her grandmother 106).  She could no longer read, but could listen to a story being read aloud.   She loved watching Congress in action on television, and she so enjoyed her many guests.

Her greatest loss was that she could not keep track of the cards well enough to play SPITE and MALICE.

Without any maternal prompting, one by one my children sat down beside her when the family began to play.  The last year of her life, with a granddaughter on either side of her, she won the last 9 games of SPITE and MALICE that she would ever play.  I am quite sure that she was unaware of all the assistance her sidekicks were promoting for this fierce competitor to achieve such gain.

Love in Action.

SPITE AND MALICE (Wikipedia) is a card game which is similar to a group game of solitaire.  It is a very old game and one my Mother’s family played in England.  We have discovered some other names for it over the years, including one of my children called it SPIKE and ALICE!   We tried various times to write down the rules of the game and type them up to my Mum’s satisfaction, and now we just say, “trust us this works.”

Do you have a family game or tradition that starts storytelling and conversation in your family?  Do you have favorite memories of inter-generational memories?  I also like to think that my ancestors played this game, do you find connections to older history of your family?   Please share your stories and add to this post some more of that lovin’ feeling.

Related Reading:
Play Spite and Malice for 2 online for free
To Be Of Use by Marge Piercy
Inspiration from Walt Whitman

26 Responses to “Spite and Malice or Cat and Mouse – a Legacy”

  1. Davina Haisell Says:

    Patricia, the idea of just playing the game appeals to me, aside from the reason for playing it.

    I loved playing games as a kid… card games, board games, word games. Something that entertained the game of chance as well as skill. We were competitive too, of course but in the end, just the playing was more important to me. Whether I was winning or losing, the worst part was when my sisters stopped wanting to play.
    .-= Davina Haisell´s last blog ..When Writing Goes Stale =-.

    Patricia Reply:

    My family just loves playing games. That activity is the major one set aside for Christmas Day. I had to count on IT Girl to lead the way on games and puzzles because they are very difficult for me to participate. My favorite part is the conversation – as a parent it was good to eves drop on the kids at play.

  2. Arts Web Show Says:

    That is one longliving family you got there.
    I’m sure the genes will continue to be kind.
    Many of my siblings are chess lovers, but i was never really very good at the game. lol

    Patricia Reply:

    Arts Web Show,
    My mother’s side of the family is extremely long lived. My father’s side of the family is not so fortunate, only one brother lived into his 90s, my father was gone at 63.

    One of my cousin’s is a professional chess player. I am not much good at games, but I do enjoy the camaraderie they inspire

  3. Talon Says:

    What a lovely thing your children did and how wonderful that a game can teach so many wonderful life lessons.

    We have a few games that we always play (Newmarket, Rummy 500, Yahtzee) and look forward to. You’re right – it’s about so much more than the actual game …

    I hope you and your family had a beautiful Thanksgiving, Patricia.
    .-= Talon´s last blog ..Death and A Daisy =-.

    Patricia Reply:

    It was one of the best Thanksgivings, only hard that everyone could not get home. We were all happy to have great phone connections and yummy food.

    My husband’s nephew had a giant Douglas Fir tree slowly fall on his house, extending from his back yard across the house and over the front yard and into the street. Not huge amounts of damage, but lots of scary worries, so he and his 5 year old daughter went over to Gram and Grandpa’s house.

    I need to get caught up on blog reading – I took about 4 days off the computer and it was good :)

  4. Jenny Ann Fraser Says:

    Thank you for sharing this lovely story Patricia.
    In my family it has since the 80’s been Trivial Pursuit played at Christmas Time. We tend to create new stories as we laugh and joke with each other. I come from a family who loves teasing and sarcasm.
    I don’t play anymore, but still join in the laughter. I wouldn’t change it for the world!
    .-= Jenny Ann Fraser´s last blog ..Black Friday- Anyone Know Where I Can Buy Some Courage =-.

    patricia Reply:

    Jenny Ann Fraser,
    It is so fun to have these traditions and when they add laughter and connection to the events even better.

    We are rather quiet and intense as a family but we have two very funny – teasing male friends who join us and that makes us not be so competitive and find more fun

    Thank you for your nice comment and I hope your singing is going well – I am thinking about you.

  5. vered | blogger for hire Says:

    Your mother’s story brought tears to my eyes.

    I agree – the best thing about playing games is the conversation.
    .-= vered | blogger for hire´s last blog ..Sweet- Airy Little Dough Rounds- Jelly Doughnuts Recipe for Hanukkah =-.

    Patricia Reply:

    My mum was a no frills person and extremely frugal, and all the loving she found hard to share with her children she lavished on her Grandies. My children enjoyed her company and being with her and I am in her debt for teaching them all how to be organized and how to clean.

    Oh how she loved to win at cards! Never gambling. 30 years of teaching first grade – no nonsense.

    It is wonderful to see your children care so deeply.

  6. J.D. Meier Says:

    I like the blend of fun and function. Stories, values, and learning along the way … what a great mix.

    Patricia Reply:

    What a great time! Thank you JD…hope you had a good Thanksgiving :)

  7. Hilary Says:

    Hi Patricia .. I don’t think I’ve ever played Spite and Malice .. we did play lots of games as kids – always learning new ones and staying up late playing etc .. a whole range of games .. useful now – ‘cept I’d obviously struggle with Spite and Malice .. card games, ball games, word games, betting games .. etc etc .. just fun – all together round the fire on long winter nights ..

    I love playing games now when I get the chance .. and am always happy to join in ..

    Love the way the family enabled your mother right to the end .. a real blessing for her .. and for them now ..

    Such fun to read .. thanks .. cheers Hilary

    Patricia Reply:

    thank you for the nice words Hilary,
    It was nice to find a story to share about my mum that showed how life is a circle game – with good laughs enclosed.

    I just bet you would like this game – come on over and I will teach you how to play.

    Hugs to you Hilary…and I hope you get a chance to play a few games too

    oh around the fire – sounds cozy indeed

  8. jannie Funster Says:

    Ah, cards, so many many hours played with family and friends in eastern Canada. Auction 45 the very best of all. Mom and Dad still play often.

    Other faves are War, Double Solitaire and oh shoot, what’s the name of it? i forget — but it’s FUN!

    .-= jannie Funster´s last blog ..The Kelly Way Of Putting On Suspenders =-.

    Patricia Reply:

    One of my young neighbors is heavily into Canasta and my brother and sister in law own a learning store and they specialize in games and products for teachers to use. They send us so many lovely new games.

    Launching Success – they are on line and have a catalog too – I have them on my facebook page.

    We always played this one as a group but I find it on the internet just for 2.

    We have a whole closet full of games and puzzles for homecomings. IT Girl designs educational learning games for the computer part of her Master’s Program and animation work

  9. Mark Brown Says:

    Great story! Sometimes losing is the greatest gift.

    Patricia Reply:

    Yes indeed. Thanks for your good words. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. And I need to head over and read your new post…the title is calling out to me

  10. Miss Becky Says:

    I think Spite and Malice may be a game that I was taught several years back by a good friend and her card-playing buddies. I loved that game, and have all the decks and instructions tucked away someplace but can’t recall enough of it to play. I’m happy that I clicked on your comment today (Blogging w/o A Blog) because now I know I want to re-visit that game and learn how to play again! In the winter time I love to sit around a table and play games with friends.
    I love this story. Beautiful.

  11. Patricia Says:

    Miss Becky,
    I am glad you came over from BWOB…and thank you for your comment.
    Thank you for your kind words – it is truly a fun game and the rules I have highlighted seem to work, though we play this with many more people than just 2…

    I love reading your blog and the shaking the tree poem…wow!

    Fun stuff.

  12. suzen Says:

    Hi Patricia! Oh that is just lovely – what a nice tradition and I love how you are keeping that alive. I’ll bet your mom was watching and smiling love down on all of you!

    We did game night with the kids on Sundays when they were growing up. Nothing major or “traditional” now. Our Thanksgiving focused on the four dogs in the house – it was a riot with two puppies, mine and my daughters, playing with the two older ones – we went thru a lot of paper towels too! :)

    Patricia Reply:

    It was a lovely evening and I think a good tradition.

    Your Thanksgiving sounds like quite the event and I am sure there was liberal use of the paper towels with 2 puppies!

    Thanks for dropping in

  13. Katie Gates Says:

    Hi Patricia! I tried to get into this comment string last night and the computer fought me. Finally! Access! I loved this post — the tradition of games in families… In my nuclear family (Mom, Dad, my sister Martha, and me), the game was charades (because we’re such a bunch of hams), but Martha and I could never be on the same team. Too much common blood — we didn’t even NEED clues! Funny, too, many years ago, an old family friend on Cape Cod taught us Spite and Malice. I remember enjoying it, but I’ve long forgotten the rules. I do remember, though, that Martha taught it to her prep school roommate who consistently forgot the name and referred to it as “Spite and Menace.” That works, right?
    .-= Katie Gates´s last blog ..Monday Reruns- The Bully Pulpit =-.

    Patricia Reply:

    We had to load the book review post last night so that might have been the block. I don’t know my old computer is truly not being very helpful and IT Girl has been hugely busy with her thesis
    It is so fun when folks have “gaming” traditions that made the whole family laugh and enjoy. Brings up good memories and fun.
    I think there are lots of good names for this game, which convey the meaning well!

    My kiddos had lots of friends who played games, even though they were in the video game generation. I sure beat the hours and hours my youngest spent on her cellphone!

    I have to get back to my blog reading routine – I got out of practice with my job! Heading on over

  14. Deborah Says:

    Hi Patricia, I don’t think I have ever played Spite and Malice. My own Grandmother taught us children ‘Rummy’ and ‘Cheat’. Rummy became a favourite but Cheat was amazing. I remember the laughter as we all threw our cards into the centre of the table with the most outrageous fibs flying from our lips. My younger brother, particularly close to my grandmother, was extremely annoyed with her on one occasion, because he said she was the only person he knew who cheated at ‘Cheat’. This accusation only made her giggle the more. Ah, happy memories! :-)

    Patricia Reply:

    One of my daughter’s talked about learning to play Cheat, but she could not remember how when she got home for vacation.
    We now have two good friends, who have joined our family get-together s and they too have added more games to the play.

    I think it is interesting that all the girls want to play games on Christmas day and are not worried about the no gifts adventure this year, just so long as they can play games and have salmon and blackberry pie for dinner!

    Thank you for sharing you game plan!