The Yacht

People laugh about it all the time now. Even after I explain the reasoning for it they will sit in silence for a moment, digesting the sweet but bitter reality of it and then they laugh some more. I have always had a keen eye for good people and no-one has ever judged me for anything in my life other than myself but this part of my home always came with an explanation. My family played Yacht when I was a kid instead of Yahtzee. We were poor as any normal middle class adult could see, but as kids we didn’t know this at all. My parents did everything to protect the façade that we were like everyone else as evidenced by them carefully constructing their words with “let’s play board games” without actually naming the games. My mother carefully filled the ketchup jar (same jar my entire life) with packages she saved from fast food establishments. And at Christmas they never got gifts for each other and told us it was family tradition that us kids all receive one gift “to appreciate family time more.” 

We were never allowed to have friends over and my parents instilled a very strong assertion in us on valuing privacy. “Don’t be telling everyone our familia business” Mom would say. “We don’t the entire neighborhood mirando our life inside.”

We respected their rules because they raised us that way. Strict and family oriented Hispanics is what we were. My mother worked hard to keep us proper and never made it unclear when we stepped out of line. And we never questioned it, all three of us and one year apart each, drenched in innocence and a childlike trustworthy demeanor we never thought for a moment that any of the tiny details of our lives was in fact carefully constructed to hide us from the truth. And the truth was that we were poor, very poor. But it wasn’t until we became older that we really understood the intensity with which our parents protected this secret. My favorite tradition was game night. This was before cell phones, pre internet, pre pagers, even cable was for the elite. So game night was my favorite night of the week. I loved all the games, card games, dice games, trivia games. I had become a master at them all. I was the family game night champion. If we were on teams I already had a system for who I wanted on my team, I learned math quickly by playing our dice games and game night was an astute teacher in all things negotiating.

But it wasn’t until I went to visit my friend Javier at 16 that I learned my family was different.

“You wanna play a game?” Javier reached up into his closet to show me his families display of board games.

I instantly felt an electric pulse shake through my body. Did I want a play a game? Of course I wanted to play a game! I was always competing with Javier in everything at school, soccer at lunch, spelling bee contests in elementary school, girls attention and teachers grades. And as much as I hated to admit it, Javier was better than me in a lot of ways. But the stars were aligned different today, because today I was gonna kick Javier’s ass in whatever board game he wanted to play.

Then, something happened…

I was about to yell yes when I began to look at the board games. They were a lot like the board games I knew from home but slightly different. Yacht was called Yahtzee, Moneyopoly was Monopoly and Tumbling Blocks was called Jenga. I was confused.

I giggled in confusion, “what’s wrong with your games?”

Javier looked over at me and then quickly back at his closet.

“What do you mean?”

I stood there for a moment to digest what was happening. What did I mean? And then the truth washed into my mind like a hurricane entering a town, ready to demolish.

“Nothing, never mind, lets play.”

We played ‘Yahtzee’. Everything was the same as our game at home except for the title. And I still beat Javier, but the game went quietly. I tiptoed into the game and wasn’t my usual arrogant self when I rolled the dice with my new found knowledge that we had grown up with second rate copy cat board games. We had a smaller home as Javier which never really sparked anything in my mind, but this display of board games, this display of superiority washed over my entire childhood and I realized in that moment that this was the moment my parents had wanted to protect us from. I suddenly felt inferior in all matters of the world to Javier.

I went home that night and argued with my mom over what she made for dinner.

“What is wrong with you tonight Miguel?”

I didn’t tell her about the board game or how they had a game called Yahtzee and not Yacht. I understood now why she never took us shopping or why we had the one Christmas present rule. Some may think that it was naivety but I simply never questioned the idea that she had been withholding a truth from us. A small innocence in me had been washed away that day.

When we got older and our parents passed away, we joked about it. About the times that mom made us play Yacht and Moneyopoly. We joked about the family tradition of one Christmas present (which I still follow to this day). I kept all the games after my siblings refused. I cherish them, I love them, they are a reminder of the love of a family and the love of my parents who protected us from the materialistic world while still providing us with all the love and family that we ever needed. And now, when I have friends over I smile happily, pour a glass of wine and say, “wanna play Yacht?”
Culled from by Madhatter Thawne

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