The Hunter and I went to a Fourth of July gathering yesterday. When we arrived, a Pitch game was in progress and we were invited to join right in. This was a problem for me as I have never, ever played Pitch before, and for some reason thought it had to do with throwing pennies at a wall. Therefore, not wanting to bring anyone who should be so unlucky as to play on my team to grief, I declined.
The Hunter, on the other hand, has been playing cut-throat Pitch since he was about five years old. His uncle, who had a small fishing camp would gather with his buddies at the camp most weekends. This uncle was of the mind that when it came fishing and cards, it was never too early to learn. As a result, The Hunter is practically a professional.
In my own immediate family growing up, cards were never a significant pastime. My mother found them boring and my father, who was a very good amateur magician, spent more time doing card tricks than playing any games.
When I was very small, I would sometimes observe my grandmother’s bridge club. The impression that remains is that they were a group of elegant ladies. There were sumptuous little treats and tea, and I believe at the end of the afternoon, there may even have been something other than tea to drink. It was never thought necessary to explain the actual game to me. I also have cousins who would kill you at Canasta, but as they lived in Virginia, I never saw them enough to learn, and so remain completely in the dark on that, as well.
My family would occasionally play cards on vacation, mostly Hearts I believe, and one year I remember learning a game called Kings Corner from my friends and teaching the family at the beach in Maine. I can’t remember anything about that game today, except that the premise had to do with building runs of cards, alternating black and red, much like solitaire.
In short, I didn’t have much to go on as I observed the Pitch game and tried to fathom the rules. There were obviously trumps in play, and there was bidding beforehand. Someone offered the explanation “High, Low, Jack” as if that would make everything clear. I smiled. Then went on to talk to some very interesting people, eat a hamburger and have something cool to drink.
On the drive home, The Hunter wanted to make sure I understood this game and asked: “What card games do you know?” Like a good teacher, he was sure he could find some prior knowledge, somewhere, and build on it.
I thought for a moment: “Go Fish.”
He clearly was not prepared for this answer. I’m not even sure he considers Go Fish a card game. There was a moment of silence, then he, ever patient, asked: “Did you ever play Hearts?”
I had to confess I did, but I was perhaps nine at the time and so the finer points were lost in the primeval mists. But I volunteered I could play Uno.
I like Uno: the directions are right there on the cards and you don’t have to remember which is trumps. Besides, in our family cheating is encouraged, which makes for a lively game. Mrs. S. has already commented on those character-building games here (where it appears I was also tangentially playing cards last Fourth of July.)
From the long-suffering Hunter’s expression, neither Go Fish nor Uno appeared to be the gateway drug he had in mind for Pitch, so I thought again and said that I might remember how to play Slap Jack and War.
He decided to explain the scoring system instead, which left me with glazed eyes. I assured him I would look it up and try to come to grips with the game, but that playing with me probably wouldn’t be a good idea. I was bound to interpret the rules differently than everyone else, I probably couldn’t help cheating, and there would be numbers involved.
My research found that Pitch is a quintessential American card game (so good for everyone who played it on the 4th of July!) from the 19th century, based on the English 17th century game of All Fours. Furthermore, according to one article at least, at one time just about every American knew how to play the game. Once again, I appear to be on the outside of this target market. Which should come as a surprise to no one.