Prairie Memories By Gary Heintz: Winning is Fun
I was cleaning out a closet last weekend and found a box of Mom and Dad’s things stashed on the top shelf. It had apparently been there since the day Patti and I moved into the house in 2004. Among the odds and ends was a game with golf pegs in holes on the triangle-shaped board. I noticed that Dad had numbered the holes, one through fifteen. A piece of blue paper was stuck to the bottom of the board, and I almost threw it away without looking at it. The column of numbers written on the paper caught my eye, and I realized that it was the formula to winning the peg game. The first move, “14 takes 13”, was followed by the next moves in the process of eliminating each piece until there was only one peg left.
Memories of when Dad bought that game way back in the seventies came to me, making me smile and instantly remember that bulldog trait of not letting go of an idea or goal that my dad had. I traveled once in a while with him the summers when I was a teacher and he was selling insurance. He would leave Tuesday mornings and come home Thursday evenings, having worked in towns throughout much of western South Dakota. One evening, having supper in a little café somewhere in northern South Dakota, we found one of these games on the table, and spent the whole mealtime unsuccessfully trying to figure out the moves needed to win. As we were leaving, Dad noticed they were selling packages of the game at the counter, so he bought one. We stayed in motels that didn’t have TV back then, so that evening I read while Dad struggled with the game. Every once in a while he would win, chuckling over the victory then cussing because he couldn’t remember how he had accomplished it. The game became part of our travels, with me driving and Dad working the game.
When Dad retired from selling and started making saddles, the game was on his end table or in his leather shop. My two oldest daughters spent a lot of time with my parents who lived next door, and the game was always there, a challenge for whoever picked it up. No one was ever very successful in winning. I didn’t think too much of it after a while, figuring the board had just become part of the furnishings.
Dad had a major heart attack when he was 75, and many times doctors said they didn’t know how he survived it. He lived five more years before succumbing to cancer. His breathing was very weak, and playing his harmonica became just a memory. His daily source of enjoyment was watching “Mayberry, RFD” and laughing at Don Knotts. He always looked forward to grandsons Michael and Scott coming over, and talking about his time in the navy and his growing up in Harrold. Sometime during these last years, not giving up, he went back to the game, and worked out the steps needed to win, and kept track of the moves, one by one, writing down each attempt, until he had it. I think that Dad’s nature of never giving up, and putting that trait to work to solve that puzzle, was something that must have filled his time with enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment. He couldn’t make saddles any longer, and he couldn’t play his beloved harmonicas, but he could solve a puzzle that had been a mystery to him for thirty years, and in a very small way, I like to think that was one reason for him to go on fighting. When you think about it, our lives are puzzles and we never really understand or remember all the “moves” we make to get to where we are. I think Dad smiled when he solved that little puzzle, feeling it was something he had won. I hope we all have puzzles, little and big, that we solve in our lives. It’s fun to win.
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