Meet the grandparents — an afternoon of Scrabble

Upholding my volunteer values one letter-tile at a time


I sat down to my second game of Scrabble at the Senior Center. My eyes were drawn to the word “BALLER” running down the middle of the board. I looked from person to person and speculated about who was the hippest grandparent at the table.

Franny sat across from me, her dark gray hair neatly parted on the right side, her fly-away hairs tamed by a white hair clip. She wore a string of pearls that gently lay on her collarbone and a sleeveless navy blue and white plaid shirt that I imagine the women on the covers of gardening magazines wear. It was easy to see the youth in Franny, who appeared so sweetly innocent that I wondered how anyone in her life could have ever stayed angry at her for long. She spoke with a soft southern accent, making it difficult for me not to smile whenever she stressed out about picking yet another “X” from the bag of letters.

Jo sat to my left. She was a hefty woman with a deep voice and a head full of wispy, gray curls. Her pale blue eyes softened her appearance as she intently watched the game over the rim of her round glasses that sat at the tip of her nose. She made note of every person’s move as she calmly ate her tuna salad with a spoon and effortlessly racked up over 200 points — a score greater than everyone else’s scores combined. 

Although it was not explicitly stated, I knew that Jo was everyone’s competition. She observed, she played and she conquered — every damn time. The intense frustrations of the other players was palpable through their silence, but I quickly came to admire Jo. She was quick and had an eye for the details that everyone seemed to overlook.

Rue sat to my right, the eldest of all three. She wore rings with different gemstones on every other finger — a symbol of her raw nature. Slumped over in her chair with her hands folded, she sassed the others as she waited for her turn.

“Franny, how many times do I have to tell you that if the word is not in the Scrabble dictionary, then it can’t be played?” Rue was that blunt friend of yours who told it to you as it was — whether or not it was what you wanted to hear.

I did not know what to expect from Madison House’s Adopt-A-Grandparent program, but I was not expecting it to be my favorite hour of the week, which it quickly became. Whenever I lay in bed staring at my ceiling after long days at school, I find my mind wandering back to the Senior Center. Did Julianne’s granddaughter ever call her from California to check in after she cried to me about how far away she was from her? And did Ruth celebrate Rosh Hashanah with her family? What about her daughter’s wedding?

Thus far, I have met a minister, an art teacher aspiring to write her own memoir as she battles memory loss, a librarian and a geophysicist — people who have lived in places across America, who have family spread out across the globe, and who unite every Wednesday to play a game or two of Scrabble with me.

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