Membership in OPPE (Old People Playing Euchre) is something its Charlottesville, Virginia members accept as a badge of honor. After all, it encompasses a surprising source of all things human: social interaction, trash talk, strategy, reflection, occasional wine drinking, laughter, history, patience, and more. The origin of this trick-taking, trump-making, partner-supporting card game is debatable. It may have originated from an 18th century Alsatian Card game called Jucker or perhaps from the German Yooker. Regardless, it is well-known among its largely midwestern transplants here and when we shuffle the 24 cards at 1:00pm every Friday, our previous times at an Indiana family get-together or a Michigan factory break or a Purdue college dormitory or a New Jersey bar are revisited.
Those euchre games of our youthful days have been replaced by a much more special competition. Unlike bridge or poker or even Mahjong, euchre allows for conversation. So, in our afternoons together, we have “met” each other’s grandchildren, traveled vicariously to other countries, swapped life hacks, opined on the state of the world, confessed our youthful indiscretions, analyzed books and movies, and developed lasting friendships. OPPE also have a unique vernacular, honed by numerous past competitions. Just like teenagers’ use of acronyms or the IT folks’ techno-speak, we get it when told not “to send a boy to do a man’s job,” or “you’re in the barn” or “I’ll play it alone,” or “You’re euchred.” Some topics—like whether it is best to back into a parking space or whether it will rain—are revisited often. Likewise, no session would be complete without some discussion of our health, and OPPE are amazingly forthright about everything from knee pain to vision problems to backaches to cancer. We know about each other’s doctor appointments and surgeries, and make a concerted effort to avoid scheduling anything medical on Friday afternoons. After all, our two-hour meetings are cheap therapy.
To alleviate the distraction that table talk ultimately brings, we use a cube with the four suits clearly displayed to keep track of what is trump. It sometimes stays with a single cube keeper, who inevitably faces criticism for forgetting to rotate it. Sometimes the cube follows the dealer, but invariably the tasks of dealing the cards and identifying trump become too much. At times, the cube sits undisturbed for multiple rounds until someone reminds us of what we have forgotten. Ultimately, there has never been a session without multiple queries of “What’s trump?” The other common confusion has to do with whose deal it is. OPPE want to do it right and we ask one another frequently this very question, and at times no one really knows. Fortunately, it does not stop us from playing; we soldier on.
Often group members brings treats to share: dried fruit, wine, freshly baked brownies, lottery tickets, cookies, cards, chocolate. Occasionally we meet in other places to have a wine tasting or to enjoy a meal or to explore a vineyard. However, not everything is perfect in the OPPE world. We still get irritated when someone shuffles way too much, makes an obviously ignorant play, and takes forever to decide which card to discard. We need patience when a player takes a bathroom break or gets a cup of coffee or talks too much.
The reality is that OPPE is the quintessential epitome of the human condition; our years and tears and fears from this life’s journey have magically brought us together for a few hours on Friday afternoons to enjoy a game and each other. Our unique comradery reminds us that we can still have fun and that the little things in life are, in fact, remarkable.
Janet Call is a loving grandmother, avid reader, storyteller, and retired educator. After nearly 50 years in the classroom, she published her first novel Empty Desk and continues to search for writing inspiration daily.