Monopoly: Loving and Losing during the Pandemic

by cindy

Monopoly. The very word conjures up some of the best parts of my childhood. I immediately travel back in time where I once again hear the voices of my family, my West Virginia family, gathering at the Lost Creek home of my grandmother, my Mommom. I smell chicken frying and home-canned beans simmering. I taste peppery gravy on the tip of my finger having just dipped it into the pan. I feel a swat on my bottom when I am caught reaching into the pot for one more taste.

Shooed out of the kitchen, I head toward the basement where the other kids have disappeared. Carefully I navigate the old, bare wooden stairs in an effort to avoid tumbling downward, one of my less fortunate talents. The room is warmed by a crackling fire. The fire eases the damp and brightens the area where my three youngest siblings–the triplets–are squabbling. My other brother is off on his own, in another area, quietly trying to avoid all the confusion.

Kenny, Janice Lee, Pam: Summer 1949, pre-Cindy

I look for my older sister and my cousin. He is my favorite cousin, mostly because he is also my sister’s favorite cousin. Only a month separates them in age and they have essentially grown up as separated twins. There they are. I spot them in the back area of the basement which holds the small kitchen where my grandmother does her canning every summer. They are setting up a board game on the small red table. Ah. Monopoly.

Let’s not assume here that I had any skills playing Monopoly. Nor did I have a particular fondness for the game no matter how well or poorly I may have played. For me, it was all about being included in a very small group, the small, exclusive group of the big kids. If my begging to join the game failed, I would be left with my younger siblings for company, which, in my mind, meant babysitting, something I did far too often on any regular day.

On the other hand, if begging succeeded, I somehow felt I had become older, more sophisticated, even wiser. (My inner voice has always erred a bit on the side of fantasy.) Nonetheless, if I were to be included, it usually came at Kenny’s instruction. So yes, there’s that reason for my fondness, too.

“Sure, Pam,” he’d say to my sister, with his lopsided, dimpled grin and his twinkling eyes. “She won’t be in the game for long, anyway.” This was true. I was always the first one out, unless his older sister, my cousin Janice, played. She usually was getting beat almost as badly as I, so returning to help in the kitchen, with the real grown-ups, suited her just fine. For me, what made the game special was being accepted, being included and also not being condemned to playing with the little kids.

As years went by, the Monopoly board gradually gathered dust. We grew up, moved away, started careers and families. Our gatherings as extended family eventually became limited to funerals or weddings. The last time I saw Kenny was two years ago when we gathered to celebrate the life of my father who had passed away a few months before.

Kenny had not changed a bit. Though his hair was pretty long (a nod to having missed the 70’s hippie style perhaps, due to his time in the military) his eyes still twinkled and his smile was still crooked, punctuated with deep dimples. He still had his devilishly sly sense of humor. He was still fun.

June 2018, Kenny flanked by my sister-in-law, Danette, and my niece, Cassie

We had time to talk, just the two of us and as we did, he gave me a gift that I will remember forever. You see, my older sister had died many years before. She was about to be married when tragedy struck. Kenny was in Germany at the time, serving in the Army, and was unable to return for her funeral. Consumed at the time with my own pain, I failed to think of how the loss must have affected him and how difficult it had to have been for him, mourning alone in a country far away. In all the years after, he and I had never discussed her death.

This time was different. And it was he who brought the subject up.

“I don’t know if you know this, Cindy, but Pam wrote to me while I was in the Army. She wrote me many times but I especially remember her last letter. She wrote in that letter how happy she was to be getting married, to be moving to San Francisco. She told me how much she loved the guy she was to marry. She was so very, very happy.”

I had not known about the letters. It was just like Pam to take the time to write. The connection and devotion they shared continued to the very end.

My heart was overwhelmed. I had never doubted her happiness but it was comforting to be reminded that she was at the peak of happiness when she died. More importantly, his words reminded me that he was one who had known her as long and as well as I. In sharing his story, I learned something new about someone who had been gone for fifty years. He gave me a piece of my sister, a gift beyond gifts. I thanked him. I can only hope that I thanked him sufficiently.

Two weeks ago, Kenny passed away. He had had heart issues for a very long time but his passing was still sudden and unexpected. With the ongoing Coronavirus restrictions, we were unable to join his family to mourn and celebrate him. We were not able to share our hugs nor our stories. One can never truly appreciate the strength that can be found in numbers until one has to mourn alone.

The Covid 19-Coronavirus has impacted not only one town, nor only one nation. It has impacted the entire world. Daily life has been forced to change. Being separated from family is the hardest to bear. I long to hold my grandchildren and cannot wait to be able to do that again. In the meantime, we do what we can do and the internet is a godsend. In the evenings I read to one of my grandsons. He loves “chapter” books though he is not yet able to read them himself. It delights me to spend part of every evening reading to him. Long distance. Via FaceTime. On a device no less, one of those things that his parents kept calling a no-no! HA!

On some afternoons, I play online with a couple of my “older” grandkids. The game? Monopoly. Of course!

With each and every game, I remember Kenny. In this small way I like to feel I am honoring him and all he meant to me. The game takes me back to a place of greater innocence. It reminds me of two people I dearly loved and now have lost. I will always remember Kenny. I will always remember his smile. I will always remember his ability to wallop my butt. I will remember him for many reasons and playing Monopoly becomes a tangible source of joy as I share the game with my grandchildren.

By the way, the Peanut, the grandchild whose text message I show above, was walloped in a game of Monopoly the other day. By me. I didn’t mean to. It was a matter of luck, mostly their bad luck. Still, it was the first time I have ever won a game. Ever. Like in seventy years ever. I’m not sure I will be forgiven any time soon.

When I am not walloping one grandchild in an online game or reading a book to another, I am calling the others, enjoying video chatting, video teasing, and video kisses. A new norm. It will have to do.

Life, with all its ups and downs, deserves to be celebrated. If we are to learn anything from this pandemic, it needs to be that. It is up to us to celebrate those we love, those we lose, those we simply miss. It is up to us to celebrate all who remain. It is up to us to make each and every day count, now like never before. Be well, my friends. Be safe, my loves. Be happy. In spite of this pandemic, make every day count.