Saturday, June 10, 2017

Nephews, Figure Skaters, and the Epic Boggle Game

We have a nephew who is a log-truck driver who loves to play Boggle, and another who has something in common with a Canadian female figure skater.

Kelly is married to Lisa, Paul's niece. They live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and on our recent trip to the area for a wedding, 20 relatives stayed in the house Lisa and Kelly were about to move into, and one evening we played games.

"You and Kelly should play Boggle," Lisa told me. "He loves to play, and I just play to make him happy, but he needs some competition."

I'm in a strange phase when it comes to Boggle, my far-and-away favorite game. I used to be the champ of pretty much every game I played [unless I played with Paul's brother John] and winning easily was always nice but it got a bit old.

But now there's a pack of young dogs yapping at my heels, and, much as I try to tell myself it doesn't matter, it still ties me in knots when we play.

"This will be fun," said Kelly gleefully.  "I pretty much always win."

Kelly is the only person I know who can brag in a lovable way.

"You'd better be careful," Paul told him. "The last guy that said he always wins played Dorcas and lost by a long way."

"Not me," Kelly said. "I'm gonna mop up the floor with her."

The more this pending showdown was hyped up, fueled by comments and anticipation, the nervouser I got, way more anxious than the situation warranted.  It doesn't matter, I kept telling myself, but still that determination to be The Winner and The Best grew and grew inside.

We found paper and pens and took our seats.  "I need my fast pen!" Kelly said. "I can't write fast without my special pen!"

I took one horrified look at the blue box containing the letter cubes. "FIVE?? You play with a five-square and not a four-square??"

"Yeah," Kelly said. "I find some really long words."

"So the words have to be at least four letters?" I squeaked, defeat before me already, because long strings of 3-letter words are my gift, my foundation, the basis for most of my points.

"Yep. 4-letter words are one point, 5-letter are two."

My balloon of anticipation slowly deflated. I had lost before I even began, I knew it.

The 5-by-5 game board totally threw off my strategy, but I played my best anyhow. Lisa played bravely even though she found a lot fewer words than the rest of us. Kelly and I kept an eye on each other's lists and hid our scores under folded corners of our papers. 

Paul's nephew Conrad had quietly joined the game. He found some surprisingly long words, but he didn't make a big ado about this, or join in the competitive spirit, or hide his scores.

The competition was taut as we filled columns and pages with words. We all borrowed Anne's Scrabble dictionary to verify words. Kelly and I still bantered. Lisa quit after a while. Conrad just smiled and played like it didn't matter.

I wrote madly, sensing that the wolves were nipping at my heels.

Finally we decided to quit after one more game.

I had 191 points.
Conrad had 189.
Kelly refused to share his total, but obviously Goliath had fallen.

Could it be? I put my head on my arms and slowly exhaled.  I could still outrun the youngsters.

We stayed at the table, laughing and talking.

A few minutes later, Conrad spoke up. "Aunt Dorcas, how many points did you get the first round?"

I found my paper.  "Ummm, 28!"

He looked amused. "Did you forget that I didn't join the game until the second round?"

I'm pretty sure I screamed.  I had completely forgotten.

So Conrad, totally apart and above Kelly's and my frenzied little competition, had actually won the game, unobtrusively and by a long way.

I told him he reminds me of Elizabeth Manley.

We were living in Canada in 1988 when the Winter Olympics were held in Calgary. I still remember the hyped-up rivalry between Debi Thomas and Katarina Witt that was played up in the media for weeks prior to the competition.

Debi Thomas, and American, was unusual for being a black skater at that level. She was intense and determined, and you didn't see her smiling. Katarina Witt was East German and known for being flamboyant and for her "daring" skating outfits. She was sure of herself and mocking of lesser mortals. 

I'm guessing most Canadians remember what Elizabeth Manley, the Canadian skater, accomplished with no noise or publicity.

From Wikipedia:

Entering the 1988 Winter Olympics, few skating pundits and media analysts considered Manley to be a contender for an Olympic medal, and she received no offers of sponsorships. Battling illness, she nevertheless did well in compulsory figures and the short program. Heading into the long program, she was in third place behind the East German skater Katarina Witt and the American skater Debi Thomas. Witt and Thomas were both favourites for the gold medal, and the media had dubbed their rivalry as the "Battle of the Carmens", as both women chose to skate to music from the opera Carmen. Witt skated her long program cleanly but conservatively, and Thomas fell apart in her long program. Elizabeth Manley, however, gave the performance of her life, winning the long program and coming within a fraction of a point of beating Witt for the Olympic title. Her come-from-behind victory made her a national celebrity in Canada.

Excellence speaks for itself, and sometimes the quietest people communicate the most effectively.

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