Mahjongg, who plays mahjongg? Certainly not me. I’m not from New York nor am I Jewish. Heck, I don’t even play bridge. Mahjongg was a game I knew only through books I’d read of uppity characters with time on their hands. I had no idea what it looked like, how it was played or how fun it could be.
So when my mom took up playing weekly mahjongg on Mondays I, of course, had plenty to say. “Seriously Mom? Did you move to New York or Florida when I wasn’t looking? Did you change your religion? Why are you playing mahjongg?” “It’s really fun,” she assured me. “You’d like it.”
Unconvinced I brushed it off as something not for me. I didn’t need mahjongg in my life. I had plenty of other activities to occupy my time. But that changed when my youngest son, eight at the time, took an interest. He loved the little tiles imprinted with interesting characters and the sounds they made when washed on the table and clicked on the wall.
While my mom practiced a dummy hand, he clamored to play. “I’d love to play,” she told her grandson, “but we need at least one more player. It’s not ideal but we can play with three.” “Mom, can you play mahjongg with us? Please?” he begged. I succumbed.
At first I hated it. I couldn’t grasp all the formalities of play, the tile names and the sequencing to actually win a round. It wasn’t until I likened the cracks, bams and dots to suits of a card deck that I was able to put my head around the game. The first round I feigned interest. I had no intention of ever playing again so why put in the effort to learn the rules. By the second round I started to like it. It helped that I had a winning hand. Could I admit it was fun? Had I become one of those ladies from my books?
I was invited to play with my Mom’s group that following Monday. We showed up with our little change purses and official 2016 national mahjongg cards. Suddenly I was nervous. These ladies knew what they were doing. They didn’t need someone messing up their level of play. I made several rookie mistakes before gaining my sea legs but ended up winning a few rounds. It might have been beginner’s luck, but it made for a fun afternoon.
I did well enough to be invited back and was included each Monday I was in town. I enjoyed meeting the women and learning the ropes of a new game. Mahjongg is easy enough to have light conversation but challenging enough to lose your train of thought and we never got below the surface of any topic.
During my last week, they asked if I would continue playing mahjongg when I returned home in the fall. I laughed. “I don’t know anyone who plays mahjongg.” “You never know,” they offered. “After all, you play.” True. So if anyone is looking to wash and click some tiles, I’d be happy to play on Monday.