The rules to what I lovingly call “Old Man Poker”


Hello again everyone!

I thought I’d start off my return to regular blogging talking about something near and dear to my heart: Hanging out with my father and his cronies during the annual fishing weekend. It began more than thirty years ago when a group of young men would help each other open a cottage in the spring or close it for the fall over the course of a long weekend, and it has evolved into an excuse to get together and spend some guy time away from the wives and kids. There’s golfing, and fishing, and telling the same tall tales the grow with each year’s repetition, and of course a healthy dose of eating and drinking like they still have the metabolism of twenty-somethings. They’re a cool bunch of guys, and I could go on at some length about how much fun we have, but for the sake of talking about something specific, I want to talk today about something we do every year that I never see anywhere else: We play what I lovingly call “Old Man Poker.”

fish_storyNow when most people of my generation talk about poker, they’re talking about Texas Hold’em. I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe Hold’em first rose to prominence in my imagination during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. Canadian television was a wasteland that winter as station after station scrambled to fill all the airtime we normally spent watching the Toronto Maple Leafs lose, the Ottawa Senators choke, and Vancouver and Montreal whip themselves into a rioting fury whether they win or lose. Someone seized upon the bright idea of televising no limit Texas Hold’em tournaments as a cheap airtime filler, and before you know it every young man with at least four friends was organizing a get-together where he could push all his chips into the center while trying to deadpan, “All in.” I had a lot of fun with that as a young man, and without claiming to be any good at it, I won more than I lost. I enjoy Texas Hold’em a lot, and I can get my father and his friends to play it from time to time, but it’s not their game at all. For them, Texas Hold’em emerged as the king of Poker when they had already been playing poker for thirty years. They’re loyal to their way of doing things, and more power to them!

So what exactly is “Old Man Poker”? Speaking in broad terms, it’s the traditional poker games that would not have been out of place in a Legion Hall basement in the Fifties and Sixties. Everyone gets a turn as dealer, and each dealer calls his own game after anteing for the privilege. A dealer who starts describing his game of choice without putting his money down is met with a chorus of clearing throats and requests for him to speak up because no one can hear him. It’s a rule that mystifies the non-regulars at the table, but everyone learns in time.

Anyway, all manner of stud and draw games are welcome, and some truly rare and magical variations have been created over the years as well. My Dad’s crowd plays a friendly game with between twenty and thirty bucks in coins each. A dime is the traditional wager in each betting round, with a nickel almost automatically raised on principle and pennies not welcome. Twenty-five cents is big money, and the maximum raise per round is fifty cents. That said, many of these games have ten or twenty betting rounds, so folding money does trade hands over the course of the night. A player who goes bust is allowed to play on without anteing on the understanding that when they start winning again, they start paying again. It’s a pretty solid way to guarantee everyone will have a good time for the entire evening.

Here are a selection of some of the games that a dealer may choose from:

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I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas by Yogi Yorgesson (Harry Stewart)

Hello everyone!

I’ve written a great deal about my mother’s father, Murray Anderson, on this blog, but very little about my father’s father, Philip Micks. Philip passed away before I got a chance to know him, and I can probably count the number of two-minute anecdotes I have about him on one hand. That said, every Christmas I get a reminder of the man I never knew, and it never fails to paint a picture.

My unknown grandfather’s favourite piece of Christmas music was a 1949 recording by Harry Stewart. Stewart was a radio and night club comedian whose shtick was built around well-meaning stereotypes; he found a lot of success with the character Yogi Yorgesson, a Swedish Hindu mystic who eventually devolved into an excuse to mispronounce words in a thick Scandinavian accent and tell ‘aw shucks’ stories about life as a suburban paterfamilias in late-40s, early-50s America.

Stewart sold a million records of Yogi Yorgesson’s attempts at Christmas Carols, and I’m told one particular song was my late grandfather’s personal favourite. It always bring a smile to my face, and as it is little-known Christmas song today I thought I would share it with you:

Oh, I yust go nuts at Christmas,
On that yolly holiday,
I’ll go in the red –like a knucklehead–
Cause I squander all my pay!

Oh, I yust go nuts at Christmas,
Shopping sure drives me berserk.
On the day before I rush in a store
Like a poor bewildered jerk.

I look at nightgowns for my wife,
Dose black ones trimmed in red.
But, I won’t know her size, and so,
She’ll get a carpet sweeper instead!

Oh, I yust go nuts at Christmas,
Ven each kid hangs up his sock.
It’s a time for kids to flip der lids,

While der papa goes in hock.

On da night before Christmas,
It’s still in the house.
My family is sleeping,
So I’m quiet like a mouse.
I look at my vatch, and midnight is near:
I tink I’ll sneak out for a cold glass of beer.
Down at the corner the crowd is so merry,
I end up by drinking about twelve Tom & Yerry…

I get to bed late, and yee whiz how I’m sleeping,
Ven on to my bed dose darn kids dey come leaping!

Dey sit on my face, and day yump on my belly,
And I’m quivering all over, like a bowl full of yelly.
Dey scream Merry Christmas, and my poor vife and me,
Ve stumble downstairs, and she lights up da tree…

My head is exploding. My mouth tastes like a pickle.
I step on a skate, and fall on a tricycle.

Yust befor Christmas dinner, I relax to a point,
Den relatives start svarming all over da yoint!
On Christmas I hug and I kiss my vife’s mother…
Da rest of da year, err… ve don’t speak to each other.

After dinner, my aunt, and my vife’s Uncle Louie,
Get into a argument; dere both awful screwy.
Den all of my vife’s family say Louie is right,
And my goofy relations, dey yoin in da fight.

Back in da corner, da radio is playing,
And over da racket Gabriel Heatter is saying,
“Peace on Earth everybody, and good vill toward men…”
And yust at dat moment, someone slugs Uncle Ben.
Dey all run outside vhooping for da neighbours will hear,
Oh, I’m so glad Merry Christmas comes just once a year…

Oh, I yust go nuts at Christmas,
but I still have lots of fun!
Yust the same as you,
I enyoy it too…
Merry Christmas everyone one!

– – –

Merry Christmas, everyone. My very best to you and yours this Holiday Season.

Remembrance Day, 2010

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. It’s the first Remembrance Day of my life that I will not be celebrating with my grandfather, Murray Anderson, a veteran of the Second World War who passed away last winter.

In December, 2009, I scanned a number of pictures he took during his time in the Royal Canadian Navy with the intention of uploading them to honour today. Unfortunately I cracked the motherboard of the computer containing those scanned pictures last spring, and I haven’t managed to recover the harddrive yet. When I do, you can be sure I’ll upload them to this blog.

In the meantime, I want to put something up here in his memory, and to mark this day where we remember all those who have served and sacrificed in the past and present so that we can live in a better world. On my facebook profile I have a collection of photos of his ship that I’ve found online up, and so I’ll republish them here for a wider audience.

This is my grandfather’s ship, the HMCS Dumheller (K167). Of the 37 U-Boats destroyed by the Canadian Navy during the Second World War, it sank one and assisted in sinking another. It also served in Operation Neptune, the naval component of Operation Overlord, the Allied Invasion of Europe.

My grandfather was one of the wireless operators aboard the HMCS Drumheller. His ship escorted the Mulberry hulks, old wrecks that were scuttled off the D-Day beaches to make breakwaters and piers so the Allies could use the Normandy beaches as a port.

On June 6th the HMCS Drumheller was just offshore. He could see bodies floating in the water. He told me he saw a troopship, its deck full of soldiers, hit a mine and vanish in a flash of light and white water. Later that day he was out on the deck when the HMS Norfolk was firing its eight-inch guns inland against Nazi positions. He burst his eardrum and permanently lost his hearing in his right ear. He never reported the injury for fear of being put ashore, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that he filed a claim with veterans affairs. He was afraid he was going to get in trouble somehow for concealing his war wound for so long.

This is the HMCS Drumheller coming into a harbour. This photo was taken from the deck of a Canadian destroyer. See the sailors lined up on the deck? During the run up to D-Day it worked alone, shepherding individual ships from British port to British port along the English Channel.

One night he said they were escorting an American merchantman through the English Channel, and they could hear over the water the special whine of a German E-Boat (a torpedo boat that was easily a match for the Drumheller). The Canadians were hoping that the Germans wouldn’t find them, but the Americans had a 50-calibre machine gun bolted to their bow, and they started firing wildly into the night. All of a sudden my grandfather heard the ‘Ping! Ping! Ping!’ as the bullets bounced off the metal of the E-Boat. The Germans revved up their engines, turned tail and ran. He figures they must have thought anyone with the nerve to shoot at them must have been another torpedo boat. The Americans trigger-happy attitude saved the day.

My grandfather told me once they were in Portsmouth, and V-1 Buzz Bombs were flying overhead. All the ships in the harbour were firing their anti-aircraft guns, and then the orders came over the radio from the harbour master to cease fire immediately: If any of the V-1s were shot down, they could have hit one of the ammunition ships. The RAF would take care of them once they were in land.
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Murray Anderson’s Eulogy

Murray and Serena Anderson at their 60th Wedding Anniversary

My grandfather, Murray Anderson, who I’ve mentioned before at least in passing here, here, here, here, here, and here on this blog, passed away last Sunday. He was a few months shy of his eighty-sixth birthday, and he was the finest man I have ever known. I gave a eulogy at his funeral yesterday, and people thought it was very well said. As this blog has featured him so heavily already –and will continue to do so– and as it serves as a place for my writing, I thought I should publish his eulogy here. I also have a copy of a speech I gave at his sixtieth wedding anniversary a few years ago somewhere. I saw it a couple of days ago, but I can’t seem to find it at the moment. I’ll put it up when I do. Continue reading “Murray Anderson’s Eulogy”

My Grandmother, Serena Anderson

Serena Anderson, 84

I mentioned last month that I’ve scanned in a number of pictures from my grandparents’ old photo albums. Everything I’ve put up thus far has been from my grandfather’s youth, and so I thought I’d mix things up a little bit by putting up some information on my grandmother. A great deal of the following text comes from an interview I did with my grandmother for a school English assignment. I have no idea what the project was about, but I must have put a lot of time into it based on how long the interview was. Anyway, I recently came into possession of a number of my old computer files, and I was delighted to find this conversation typed up. I’m sorry that some of my questions are a little stilted and her answers tend to ramble. I was just a kid when I did this, and I had no idea how to conduct a proper interview. I have added some recent additions and notes. You’ll find them in square brackets.

My grandmother will be 85 this August, and a lot of interesting things have happened to her: As a newborn she spent six months in a hospital, hours away from her mother, and she may have been almost adopted by her mother’s cousin. Even my grandmother is a little hazy on the details of that episode. Her father died in a logging accident before she was five years old. She spent a lot of her childhood as a pair of working eyes for a blind neighbour. She grew up very poor during the Great Depression. She gave up school at fourteen after her mother was in a car accident, and then she got a job working for seventeen cents an hour six days a week in a wool mill. Her youth was spent in a very different Canada from the one I live in today, and I think I’m rather lucky to have these stories to paint a picture of what that was like.

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A Boer War Story

This is another photo from my grandfather’s collection. In his album the caption at the side reads, “1938. Dad (E. J. Anderson) and fishing buddy Mr. Monaham (Boer War Vet). (Dad age 49)” As in my last post, this photo inspired a story from my grandfather.

I don’t know Mr. Monaham’s first name. I’ve run a search through the list of the 7,000 Canadians who served in the Boer War, but there isn’t a Monaham among them. Mr. Monaham must have served in a British unit, and there are far too many of them to attempt a quick check for the sake of a given name. Whatever his full name, to my grandfather he would have been ‘Mr. Monaham,’ a man who enjoyed fishing every bit as much as his father did. What stands out in my grandfather’s memory, though, is an old war story he once heard.
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A Car Story from the Early 1920s

This is another photo from the collection I scanned up at my grandparents’ place two weekends ago. My grandfather thinks this photo was taken before he was born, which would date it prior to 1924. There is a small possibility that he’s the little boy second from the left whose face is in shadow, which would put the photo somewhere around 1928. Either way, it is a very old picture. Working from the assumption that it predates Murray Anderson’s birth, those would be my great uncles Bruce, Graydon, Henry and Clarence sitting on the running board, along with my eldest great aunt, Margaret. The face sticking out of the driver’s side doesn’t look much like their father, Elmore Anderson. It might be the neighbour, Mr. Monaham (who has a story of his own worth putting up here), but I think we’ll just have to leave him unidentified.

When my grandfather saw this photo, his eyes lit up, and he told me a story that has been often repeated at Anderson family gatherings for the last eighty years and more. It took place a couple of years before this photo, but that is the car, and those are (some of) the kids. This is the story:
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Awesome Pictures: The Great Depression Era’s Concept of Gun Safety

What is it:

This is my grandfather, Murray Anderson, in 1942 at age 17, pointing his gun directly at the photographer.

Why is it Awesome?

Okay, let’s get a closer look at this. You tell me, what’s interesting about this image? Is it the bit where you can see directly down the barrel of what is almost certainly a loaded firearm? I’ll admit, it makes for an interesting picture –especially once I was assured the photographer is not now dead and quietly buried in a shallow grave somewhere out in the forest– but what is the wider context? What can this photo tell us about the life and times of the generation that grew up during the Great Depression?

Let’s take a step back and remember what we’re talking about here. This is not a couple of teenagers horsing around with firearms. Well, okay, it is teenagers horsing around with firearms, but it’s also one of those things that disconnects the Greatest Generation from my own. Even the Baby Boomers can’t really wrap their head around the idea that in the Great Depression, you fed your family however you could. Everyone had a garden. If you lived near a lake or a river, you fished. If there were wood lots around you, you hunted. You didn’t do it because you were starving. You did it because it was something you could do to make things easier on the family budget. It wasn’t a question of desperation so much as independence.
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My grandfather was a horse-driving milkman as a young man. This is his story.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I spent last weekend up at my grandparents, and I scanned in over a hundred old photos. Here are a couple of them, along with an essay my grandfather, Murray Anderson, wrote at some point for a local newspaper about his days as a milkman in Bracebridge, Ontario, in the late 40s and early 50s. I don’t know which one, or when, or how much of it was published. This was the draft he sent them, and so I’m republishing it at its full length with pictures from his old albums.

It’s a pretty great collection of stories about a very different world, when horse-drawn carriages shared the road with cars and trucks. I lived and worked in Mennonite Country for a year after graduating school, so it’s not a totally foreign concept to me, but somehow it never quite sunk in just how much the horse decides where it wants to go until I read this essay. Throw in the steep hills of Muskoka, and the icy winters up there, and you can see just how much a willful horse like my grandfather’s Queenie could change the whole business of getting around town.

Murray Anderson, age 24, with Queenie

A day in the life of a milkman in the 1950s

Refrigerators were non-existent for the working man. Ice-boxes were what some could afford, the rest of us just let the kitchen tap drip on the milk bottle to keep it cool in summer (also let it drip in winter to keep the pipes from freezing, but that didn’t always work – these were in the days before central heating, running water, and indoor plumbing for the working man).. Milk delivery was a 7 day a week affair in the summer months and 6 days in the winter, which meant a double load for delivery on Saturdays.
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In 1830 some of my ancestors founded the town of Kenmore, Ontario

Last weekend I went up to my grandparents’ place in Gravenhurst, Ontario. Their health is beginning to fail, and so I decided we should find a sedentary activity to occupy our time. I went through half a dozen old family albums with them and scanned in over a hundred family photos. Many of them, and the stories attached to them, will make their way onto this blog eventually. I wanted to start off, though, with a wonderful discovery I made: Three long typewritten pages copied from who knows where, detailing how some of my ancestors founded the town of Kenmore outside Ottawa, almost two hundred years ago.
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