“In winter / all the singing is in / the tops of the trees” – Mary Oliver, “White-Eyes”
I won the pile of wishes in a game of cards. I wish I could say it was poker, and then I’d sound really buff and cool and savvy. But the game was cribbage, plain old-fashioned cribbage, the kind where you score pegs on a board and look for combinations of fifteen points to score.
My granny had had that pile of wishes in her back cupboard for as long as I could remember. She always told me she’d play me for them when I got old enough, but I didn’t believe her. Who would give away a pile of wishes?
But she did. The summer I turned thirteen, she suddenly said, “Now’s the time. I’ll play you a card game for that pile of wishes.” By that time, I’d forgotten about the pile of wishes, and besides, I was old enough not to believe in wishes any longer. I mean, when you’re in middle school you learn pretty fast that there’s no such thing as magical wishes, heck, even before getting out of grade school you figure that out. There’s no such thing as magical wishes.
But, my granny is one of my three favorite people in the world, and even though I was thirteen and real street-wise – I thought – I decided not to argue. “Sure, Granny,” I said. “Let’s play for your pile of wishes.”
She must have heard the unbelieving tone in my voice, since she gave me a look. Then she told me to go get the cards and the cribbage board.
I knew where they were – I’d been playing cribbage with my granny since I was real young. She was sharp, though, and that game takes some luck, not all skill, to win. So we sat down over the little table in her parlor, I set the pegs at the start of the cribbage board, and she shuffled and dealt the cards.
Something was different this time. I started out not caring if I won the hand or not, and then I won the first three hands in a row. In cribbage, technically you don’t win a hand, you each score your points and peg them on the board. Whoever gets to the end of the board first wins the game. And even though Granny had the crib – extra cards – to score with her hand, somehow they didn’t help her like usual.
On the third hand, and still ahead, I looked at Granny. Was she letting me win? But the look on her face told me she was playing square-up. We were playing for the pile of wishes, after all.
And so it went. My pegs wound around the red serpentine path on Granny’s cribbage board, always a little ahead of hers. There was something about it that made me want to win, really want to win this time.
Finally, it was over. Granny looked at me and said, “It was just the same with my gran when I was thirteen. She played me a game of cribbage for that pile of wishes.” She slid the cards back into the decorated box they came in, and I started to put away the pegs in the little storage slot on the underside of the board. But Granny stopped me.
“Leave the pegs in the board and go get the pile of wishes. They’re yours now. Then you can put away the pegs.”
I did like she said, and sure enough, when I got the pile of wishes out of the cupboard, they seemed to sing to me. Bright red tiles, each with its own woven cord, stacked together every which way, singing. Like birds in the tops of trees in winter.
My first wish was for my granny. It was only right, after all.
About this post: It’s the grannies that are magical.