For many families, there are games that evolve into full-blown family traditions. A fun, beloved game that evokes hearty laughter, solidifies rivalries, inspires camaraderie, or even teaches you how to cheat inconspicuously. Some families play card games, some play sports. My family is full of Parcheesi nuts.
My grandmother (Mamita) had a love for all sorts of games and puzzles, from Scrabble to War to word searches, but her love for Parcheesi was next to legendary. The object of the game isn’t particularly unique: get your pieces all the way around the board first and you win. Of course, there are hazards and strategies along the way. For instance, if you have two of your own pieces on the same space, it creates a “bridge” that prevents the pieces behind it from advancing. A stubborn player can keep a bridge up for a long time, which can lead to some serious opponent frustration.
Also, if you land on a space already occupied by another player, you send that piece all the way back home to start the journey all over again. In Parcheesi lingo, this is called “eating” your opponent. The “eater” also gets to advance an additional 20 spaces, so this is a common move that causes celebration and irritation.
Mamita took particular gusto in eating everyone and never breaking her bridges. She’d look at her opponents just ahead of her on the board and salivate. “¡Mira toda la comida!” (“Look at all the food!”) Once she rolled the dice and claimed a victim, her face would light up and she’d yell, “¡COMIDA!” And she had a knack for eating more than one opponent in a single turn and advancing half her pieces three quarters of the way around the board. And whenever she had a bridge, she’d laugh at all of us stuck behind her like sardines in a can, missing turn after turn after turn.
She was vicious, but we loved her even more for it. To hear her uproarious laugh always made losing to her perfectly acceptable.
Seven years ago, Mamita passed away after battling Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, it was devastating. We still miss hearing her cackling laugh while kicking all our asses in Parcheesi.
Recently my family has taken up playing Parcheesi as a way to honor Mamita’s memory. We even started an annual tournament in her honor. The only problem with the game is that the board is limited to four players, and we always have several more people who want to get in on the game. To solve this problem, we began creating our own Parcheesi boards. My sister created a five-man version, and I debuted a six-man board this past January (complete with paisleys and elephants, even dice and hand painted gamepieces to match). These mega-games are marathons. Since you have more opponents to eat you and more real estate to traipse through, things get especially vicious and drawn out. The games are always punctuated with Dad’s signature whose-turn-is-it chant: “WHO GO? WHO GO? WHO GO?”, sometimes followed by “ME GO! ME GO! ME GO!” Many games get abandoned in the wee hours after several hours of playing (and drinking and screaming and laughing and keeping an eye on Dad because he cheats like a fiend if you don’t watch him like a hawk).
Today I’m celebrating my birthday at my parents’ house, and I just finished making a seven-man Parcheesi board at my brother-in-law’s insistance. There will be a good amount of family around, so there still won’t be enough room at the gameboard for everyone (plus, even in this family, there are those who aren’t as enamoured with the game as the rest of us freaks). If we play all day, some people will end up ignored. The plan is to start a game in the afternoon, see how far it goes and quit before dinner so we can spend time with everyone there. There’s always the possibility that at some late hour, after the not-so-Parcheesi-obsessed have left/retired for the evening, some Bacardi will be poured, and a new game will begin. We’ll see how well that goes.
And thank you Mamita, for giving us yet another reason to celebrate your life. Miss you. xoxo