Strong Men: Louie and The Pinochle Game

Grandpa Louie was an enigma. When I was little, he scared the tar out of me with his loud accented voice and stern handsome face. Yet, there are so many photos of the two of us when I was small where he is helping me dress my baby doll or giving me my first teddy.

The first German word I learned from Grandpa was dummkopf, which literally means stupid head, bluntly implying you are an idiot but in a loving way as only Germans can express. This word was always accompanied by a pfft and a wave of his hand. The pfft sound must be hard wired in our genetic code – my grandpa made it, my dad made it and now I make it.

“Bean pole” was another of his favorite nicknames for me.  “Grandpa, don’t call me that,” I would pout, and his response was always, “well then, eat some food and put on some weight.”

Louie was the one who taught me to play Pinochle when I was ten. It is a notoriously difficult card game with a special deck and there are several levels of strategy from bidding to melding to winning tricks with your partner, and it gets exponentially more difficult when you play Double Deck Pinochle.

Sitting at their kitchen table one Sunday afternoon with Louie as my partner, I had a miracle hand – a double run in trump, except I was missing one jack. This hand is like Harry Potter catching the Snitch in Quidditch – you score 1500 points and win the game instantly. At ten, I didn’t have a poker face and looking at these cards, I was practically bouncing in my chair.  As I ran the bid up and up, Grandpa glared at me across the table.

“You better have a good hand,” he growled.

After I won the bid, we exchange three cards each and there it was – my missing jack of hearts!  I slammed that double run on the table and we all started shouting and laughing.

Then a loud deep voice said,”STOP RIGHT THERE!” and the table went dead silent. Louie’s arm snaked out between my Dad and Grandma and pulled out one of the red cards in my meld. The jack he sent. He drew it slowly across the table then pointed at the corner of it. Not a jack of hearts. A jack of diamonds. One diamond hidden in a bunch of hearts. My heart sank.

“Not a double run,” he said, shaking his head in disappointment.

I was mortified but like facing a charging lion, you didn’t back down in front of Grandpa. “Ok, not a double run, but it’s more than enough to win this game for us.”

He cracked a smile fondly and nodded, “You’re right about that, bean pole.”

I didn’t get my miracle hand but his smile made my day.

Happy Father’s Day, Grandpa Louie.

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