Mah what? Mah jongg!

Mah what? Mah jongg!

I have written a few columns about “you know you are getting older when…”

For example, you know you are getting older when you have to take your glasses off to read (and your truly kind and lovely eye doctor tells you that he will give you a new prescription when you “are ready”).

You know you are getting older when you ask your orthopedist if it is normal for your shoulder to make cracking noises when you are doing physical therapy exercises and he says, “Sometimes that happens when you age.”

You know you are getting older when they make a remake of a movie that you remember seeing in the theater the first time it came out. You know you are getting older when you find your favorite book from your childhood and you could have sworn that you just read it last year and the pages are now yellow and on the verge of disintegration…

Ah yes, there are frequent reminders of the aging process.

And then there is mah jongg.

I first remember hearing about the game mah jongg when I was little. My paternal grandmother talked about it. She and her friends played cards and other old-lady games … and they talked about mah jongg a lot. I think my maternal grandmother played it as well, and according to my mom she played it too, but I only remember my mom playing tennis.

Mah jongg, to me, was an old-person game. But in the last few years, I have been hearing about all these women who play it. Women who are around my age, but we will say that they are older — after all, I was born in the 70s and some of these women were born in the 60s, which is a whole decade older… (I will just run with that…)

Even when I heard about these women playing mah jongg, or that they were learning how to play it, I still didn’t want to. Kind’ve like needlepoint — I never had any desire to do that either. (Of course, then I learned how much it costs to do needlework, and I knew that husband #1 would not approve.)

In any event, a few months ago, I went to visit my neighbor, who is adorable and quite a bit older than I am. (She is probably older than you are too, but we won’t go into that, she should just live and be well.) She mentioned how she misses playing mah jongg. It was then that I learned that mah jongg is a four-player game. Who knew?

I asked another neighbor if she wanted to learn how to play, because then we could play with the neighbor who was looking to start playing again. We originally thought that my mother would teach my friend/neighbor and my friend/neighbor’s mom would teach me. This was to avoid unnecessary fighting between mothers and daughters. (Not that I ever fight with my mother…) In any event, it turned out that my mother was now going to teach me, my friend/neighbor and another friend/neighbor, so we could play with our other neighbor, who has been playing mah jongg for almost as long as it has been around!

We had a few lessons at my parent’s house, where we learned dots and bams and flowers. We learned about doing the Charleston and exchanging pieces back and forth and across. We also learned that all of the instructions are in the card that you can buy for $8 if you see like a regular person, or for $9 you can get the jumbo card so you can really see what is on the card. (Yes, a definite sign of getting old is having to buy the bigger card.)

But we were learning, and it was fun. And my mom was having a lot of fun teaching us and using my grandmother’s set, which she bought in 1947! But we knew the next step was coming. The step where we had to go into the real world of mah jongg and play with real people, not people who were related to us. We had to use the skills that we were taught. We had to make my mom proud. Honestly though, I rarely made my mom proud, so if anything went terribly wrong, I was no worse off than I had been before!

So the game was set for the second days of yom tov. We had the “Queen of Mah Jongg” playing with her neighbor as her partner. Then we had my friend/neighbor, who was quickly overtaken by her very lovely mother-in-law. Then there was me and my mother, and then there was my friend/neighbor’s mother, who gracefully relinquished her daughter to her mother-in-law. Most gracious indeed.

And we played. And we ate. And we drank. And we laughed. Did we win? Did we remember anything my mother taught us? I have no idea. We were having too much fun to notice. And even though I got the whole social aspect of the game and I was having a really great time hanging out with all of these great women, I still couldn’t figure out why mah jongg is the game that brought women all over the country (and probably the world) together.

I don’t understand it — but this also is coming from someone who has trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time.

So here is the life lesson: Hanging out with women can be fun! I don’t have to keep my guard up all of the time, and if this weird tile game known as mah jongg is what brings us together, and makes me feel like I have really and truly entered middle age, then so be it. Thank you to my new mah jongg friends. May we continue to entertain each other for many games to come!

Banji Ganchrow of Teaneck is wondering what comes after playing mah jongg. A book club? Movie Night? Wednesday afternoons at ShopRite? Bring it on!

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