Thursday, December 4, 2008

Family Encounters

It's the holiday season. And along with my annual servings of turkey, mashed potatoes, ornaments, gifts and general Christmas merriment, it's also time for a heaping dose of.... family.

There's nothing quite like Christmastime in my family. I'm sure we're pretty much like most other families who spend holidays together. That is, of course, assuming that most families can relate to the scene in "While You Were Sleeping" where the whole family is gathered around the table and each person is engaging in their own off the wall conversation. One of my favorite pastimes is to just sit back and listen to how many different conversations can go on at once. I think the record was 9, which might not seem like a lot, but you have to keep in mind there were only 7 people at the table. We might be small in number, but we have more than our fair share of quirks. That's not to say I don't bring my own truck load of idiosyncrasies to the table. God knows I have to if I want to fit in - not to mention survive.

Anyways, all that to say, there's never a dull moment during the holidays with the fam, but that's not good enough for us. No. We can't just let it go and have everyone go on with their crazy little lives. Instead, we force ourselves to do the one thing that especially tends to accentuate our insanity: we play cards. Not Hearts or Spades, or even Bullshit - no, we play a game called Shanghai. Heard of it? Didn't think so. I think they outlawed it in most cities because of its tendency to rip families apart. It's not that it's a complicated game with a massive amount strategy involved - it's far from that - it's just that when we play cards, we pick each other apart. We beg shamelessly for cards that we need to complete our hand. We bring up past grievances and cast "you owe me" glares across the table. (I'll admit it; I often play the "perfect daughter" card in order to get what I want.) We steal cards from people simply for the sake of depriving them of something they need. "Cards is cards," we say, and then five seconds later we beg like 3rd graders for something we want. It's pathetic. It's family.

The best part is, we often invite guests to join us in our friendly card games. If you play cards with us, you're in for good. It is then, and only then that you see our true colors. We get vicious. There's often yelling involved, and there's always cheating. Just this last weekend, I was home for Thanksgiving, and of course we played cards several times. One night, my Sitti (that would be a word for "grandma" in Arabic), who is one of the most gracious and kind people I have ever met, tried to cite a rule that had never been mentioned in over 20 years worth of card games. "It's a rule!" she exclaimed. "What? We've never even heard of that!" everyone else shouted. And the argument went on and on and on. All I know is, it's a good thing my dad enjoys playing bartender, because you need a drink or two to make it through a game of Shanghai. (In case you are wondering, I looked up the definition for the word "shanghai," here's what I found: (verb) "to enroll or obtain (a sailor) for the crew of a ship by unscrupulous means, as by force or the use of liquor or drugs." Yep. Sounds about right.)

Oh, Shanghai. Such a wonderful holiday tradition.