Every year, our family and my wife’s sister and brother and their families spend two weeks at a fishing camp in Ontario, some 600 miles north of Buffalo. Deep in the Canadian north woods, on the shore of a beautiful lake, the camp is a collection of 10 cabins, and is accessed by roads built for logging and silver mining.
At night, when the day’s fishing is done, the fish have been cleaned and delicious fried fish dinners have been eaten, we like to gather in the home of the camp owners. The evening’s entertainment usually includes playing darts and cards, and a good amount of beer drinking and general jollity. Though my wife, Ellen, and I usually bow out well before midnight, the younger men regularly stumble into their cabins around 4 a.m. Needless to say, they are not among the early morning fishermen.
On one of the evenings, an annual poker tournament is held. The participants, usually between eight and 12 in number, are almost always men. Some of them are real amateurs, but others are very experienced. This past summer, Ellen was cajoled – you might say lured – into entering. Perhaps they thought she would be good company; perhaps easy money. It cost $10 to enter, with prize money to be awarded to the final two players. She put down her $10 and entered the game with a bit of trepidation, convinced that she would soon be forced out.
Now, Ellen’s dad was a longtime poker player, known for his bluffing and unpredictable betting that threw other players off their game. He even occasionally played poker in Las Vegas. So perhaps some of that is in Ellen’s genes. But her younger brother, Jim, who draws from the same gene pool, is an experienced poker player, and was also in the tournament. Putting the two of them together in any game, be it pinochle, Scrabble or Clue, is a combustible mixture. They come from a very competitive family. My wife says that if Jim wins, he gloats; if he loses, he complains.
Ellen ended up winning the poker tournament, the first woman ever to do so. She said afterward that she had never before said the words “all in,” but did so several times in the course of the game, in the process taking down some formidable players, including Jim. She had a big grin on her face when she won, and the other players applauded her. Ellen said she was going to frame the $50 she won, but our daughter told her to hold onto it, as it might be needed before the end of the trip – and it was. This column, not the framed winnings, will have to memorialize her victory.
When we were out fishing the next morning, I asked Jim his view of the game. He said that he had some bad breaks and Ellen had good luck. I guess that’s what it sounds like when you complain about losing. But his wife told us later that when he came back to their cabin after the game, he seemed proud that his sister had won.
The next night, the annual blind scotch tasting contest was held. Ellen, Jim and scotch – now that’s a highly combustible mixture. Did I mention that their dad, Dick Baxter, was Scottish and had a lifelong appreciation of scotch? Did I mention that the camp owner gave Ellen a small tumbler of fine scotch, as a preview, just before the poker tournament began?
We’ll never know how much that tumbler of fine scotch fueled her boldness and influenced the outcome of the tournament. Did it make it easier for her to push her stack of poker chips forward and say, “all in?” My wife will only say, with a secret smile, “The poker gods were with me.”