Tuesday, February 09, 2010


No, not muggings. I was not accosted on the street by a desperate youth who stole my purse and ran. I said, “Muggins.”

Muggins is different from muggings because the accosting takes place at my kitchen table after lunch, not on a dark street at midnight. The accoster is not a drug-crazed youth, but a mild-mannered senior citizen. And the only thing stolen is my self-respect. After the Muggins is over, the afore-mentioned senior citizen calmly rises from his chair and walks, not runs, away in quiet triumph.

Here’s the story.

For over a year, my husband had an old gentleman named Les Simpson whom he visited at the nursing home every week. The visits started out innocently enough—Tom just started popping his head in the door for a quick visit. He had known Les for over five years because Les and his wife shared a table with my parents at mealtime when they lived at Nelson Gables assisted living. Les and his wife had moved to the nursing home in 2007, and Les’s wife had died of the complications of Parkinson’s Disease in 2008.

Those quick stick-your-head-in-the-door visits led to longer visits, and soon Les was teaching Tom his very favorite dominoes game—Muggins. Although Les was in a wheelchair, he was still a Muggins master. At first, Tom often found himself on the losing end of the score card. Eventually he learned a few tricks of his own, so he would win a Muggins game as often as he was on the losing end. Les looked forward to the weekly games, but so did Tom.

Last fall, Tom started noticing that Les wasn’t himself. He would make mistakes and miss plays. He lost his competitiveness. After awhile, it became apparent that Les’s health was failing, and the Muggins games were put aside. Tom’s visits became bedside visits, and Les died of heart disease and cancer at the age of 88 on November 4, 2009.

At the funeral, Les’s son gave a eulogy in which he mentioned how much his father had looked forward to playing dominoes with Tom every week.

A tin box of Double Six Color Dot Dominoes sat in Tom’s office for a couple of months, gathering dust. Every time I saw that box, I thought about Les. Then about two weeks ago, right after lunch one cold January day, I asked Tom if he wanted to play a game of Muggins.

The dominoes box came out, he beat me, and it’s been a battle ever since. Every day after lunch, we empty the dominoes on the kitchen table, mix them up, draw our seven tiles, and off we go. Tom always keeps score (he always did with Les, too)—a funny method that involves x’s instead of points. We usually talk about Les a little bit as we play our game of Muggins.

Right now (not that I’m keeping track), Tom is ahead of me by two games. Some of it is strategy, and some of it is the luck of the draw. But I do win occasionally.

I don’t know if we’ll keep doing this forever, Tom and I, but it has been a good way to get through some of the blustery, snowy days of the past two weeks. And in a way, when Tom and I dump out the dominoes after lunch, I feel like we’re having a daily tribute to the memory of Les, who was always up for a friendly game of Muggins.


Messy@ Bungalow'56 said...

A wonderful story.

j9 said...

Agreed. A wonderful story. It's the little things in life. :)

bd said...

He is definitely a "keeper".