I never really enjoyed being a kid. Yeah, I had a lot of kid experiences, and from a kid’s perspective, they were fun, but I never felt I belonged in a kid’s world. The problem was, though, I didn’t know what it was like to be an adult.
I’ve mentioned before that my mother’s mother’s family was extremely large, but so also were the families of all my grandparents. I basically lived in an adult world when I wasn’t at school. Of course that wasn’t true all the time, but for the most part I seldom had many friends my own age.
We often visited these family members, and I could only sit and listen to the conversations. Many were funny, many were informational (although I didn’t realize it until years later), and many were way over my head. Whenever I asked a question, I would be told the adults were talking, so be quiet and listen. Regardless, I usually preferred being with the adults than with any young siblings or cousins. I just didn’t relate to most kids my own age, but most adults didn’t relate to me.
That’s not to say I didn’t have adults to interact with. My grandparents took an active role in my life, and I learned many lessons, which have had lifelong benefits. Such as, don’t work on anything electrical without turning it off first. Even then, some things can retain a charge and zap you anyway. Another was to squirt the lighter fluid onto the charcoal BEFORE lighting the match. And a big one was to never place the thumb on top of a nail when hitting it with a hammer. Believe me, I won’t do that again!
As a teenager, I studied just about everything I saw the adults doing. Driving cars, doing laundry, fishing, mowing the lawn, everything. I really wanted to be an adult. But it took a long time before I was accepted into their world.
The change came about one Saturday afternoon when a number of relatives were gathered at the lake house my Dad’s parents owned. In just a few yards from their house were the houses of several of my grandmother’s sister’s families, so weekend gatherings were common. Often the main Saturday afternoon entertainment was a no limit penny-ante poker game. I had been saving pennies for months and had a small peanut can filled to the brim. When I asked to join in, everyone looked at my can of pennies with greed in their eyes, and, needless to say, they let me join the game. No one, not even me, really thought I stood a chance of keeping my money. But I just wanted to play with the adults.
So the dealing started. For about an hour I held my own. I won some, and I lost some, but no one was making fun of me. The kid was doing okay. Then it happened. The game was 5-card draw, and I had the 10, Jack, and King of spades in my hand. I took two cards just hoping for a couple of more spades or possible a pair or two, but I drew the Queen and Ace of spades. I had the ultimate royal flush in my hand. But what surprised me was that everyone else thought they had great hands.
I just stayed up with each round of bets and raises and let others do the raising. Basically I just faded into the background while everyone else got caught up in raising the bets. I always just matched what came my way. Then my aunt sitting just to my left pushed everything she had to the center of the table. So did everyone else. What else could I do? Everything I had went to the center. My aunt laid down a nine high straight flush. Then everyone else started folding. She cackled loud enough for the neighbors to hear, and she reached to rake in the pot, but I laid down my hand. Everyone including Father Time froze as she looked at that royal flush. For about fifteen seconds silence reigned supreme. No one had thought the kid could pull this off. Then one of my cousins drew out his wallet and asked if he could buy back some pennies.
I made about seventeen or eighteen dollars that day. Big money for a kid in the early ‘sixties. But I had also been watching the adults for a long time by then, and I made certain to let them win most (but not all) of it back.