When I was growing up my parents would often have friends over for dinner.
If the guests brought their own children it meant hours of adventures, ghost stories and pranks. But even when my friends were home with babysitters, these were special nights.
For dinner we'd eat steak tips, or prime rib or some other treat. Sometimes a few of Dad's friends would come over all on one night with their wives and they'd all buy lobsters. But often it was just Dad and Mom and Lenny and Mal, (or Chris and John, or Martha and Marcus, or Sue and George) and we'd eat until no one could eat anymore. When their friends were over there was usually a real dessert. We'd have a pie or monkey bread as though it were Christmastime and not just another Sunday night in July.
After dinner everyone would sit and drink and tell funny stories about when Dad and his friends were younger. Sometimes they'd play poker for nickels and quarters and Mom would say to me and Brian, "Go brush your teeth and we'll be up to tuck you in." Those nights I went without much fuss because card games bored me. Mom and Dad would each slip into my room to kiss me goodnight and I would drift off to sleep to the sounds of Oldies 103.3 on the radio and the grownups laughing as they bet small change in the kitchen.
But some nights after dinner Dad would go to the den and open the closet. That's when I knew to start begging permission to stay up. They were going to play a board game.
I knew how to play every game in that closet: Jenga, Go to The Head of the Class, Battleship, Trivial Pursuit, Trivial Pursuit: Disney Edition, Trivial Pursuit: Genius Edition, Trivial Pursuit: Silver Screen Edition, Scrabble and Taboo. For years, I was never my own player, I was always someone's "helper," but I didn't mind. I'd stay, wearing my Little Mermaid pajamas, sitting on my knees for added height next to Mom or Dad as moths flew against the screen door and the stove clock logged minutes past my forgotten bedtime.
The very best game in the closet was called Encore.
In Encore, when a card is drawn and a word is read off, you need to sing songs that contain the word in the lyrics. You have to sing a seven word phrase at least, thank you very much. Then the other team does the same thing. Both teams battle back and forth until they run out of songs, or time.
For a child, I was pretty good at Encore because even then I had a memory for lyrics above all other things. Mom was even better because she knew more songs than I did.
One night Mom and I were a team together. The word on the card was "brown"; we had already sung one song, the other team countered with a song, and it was our turn again. The other team was happy because no one could think of another song with the color brown in it. The tiny white sand grains in the chintzy hourglass were running out. Then, quietly, almost inaudibly, Mom began to sing, "the old brown mare, she ain't what she used to be..." The other team sighed and shook their heads, now they would have to come up with yet another song to beat us. Mom had sung past seven words but I was so excited at our obvious victory that I joined in at the top of my lungs, "-AIN'T WHAT SHE USED TO BE! AIN'T WHAT SHE USED TO BE! THE OLD BROWN MARE SHE-"
Mom grimaced. Right. Brian was sleeping after all.
"Wait a minute," Mal rejoined, "isn't it 'the old grey mare?'"
Mom smiled pointedly at me, sideways. "That's why I was trying to sing it quietly."
"Oh. I thought it really was a brown mare. It sounded good as a brown mare."
Mom and I probably won anyway. At least that's how I remember it.