Rook is a card game that has been enjoyed by many Itawamba families, and our family is no exception. My husband and I both grew up in long-time, Rook-playing families and have fond memories of watching our elders play Rook and later, when we became old enough, joining in the Rook games ourselves. While I can't say that our kids have witnessed the same volume of Rook-playing that we did as youngsters, they have been exposed to the game. This Christmas we started what I hope to be a new family tradition in our family's holiday celebration: games of Rook, although actually it would be a repeat of a tradition that existed years earlier. We've also introduced the game to the "significant others" in our family so we now we can have several tables of Rook going at one time.
The "new" tradition got me wondering. Just how common was the game of Rook in Itawamba County? An informal poll reveals that at one time Rook was enjoyed by many families although more recent generations of Itawambians either have not been taught the game or have chosen other gaming alternatives such as Blackjack or Texas Hold-em, probably due to the influence of casinos. Plus, there is always competition from hand-held video games, so Rook-playing (or any game of cards for that matter) may be a dying art. What a shame! How I wish that my children could have witnessed the masterful and nuanced Rook play of Fessie Pennington, Clarence Wardlaw, Lawrence Dulaney, Paul Mills and others, although I am thankful that they did get to play Rook with my father before he died and also on occasion still play the game with their grandmothers. Does every Itawamba family have their own Rook legends?
A bit of research revealed that our version of Rook is a variation on the game of Kentucky Discard Rook called the Red One, in which the red one card is added to the deck as a thirty-point card, making a hand of Rook worth 150 points. Every family seems to have their own "special" version of the game however. I don't know about most family games of Rook, but we never consulted the rule book. Therefore, whenever folks from different families get together for a game of Rook, it always helps to hammer out the common rules before beginning the game. Some families allow "shooting" for 500 points, some don't. Some allow "shooting" but only during the bidding process and before looking at the widow, or nest of cards. Some families are most strict about reneging (playing the wrong card). You get the picture. Establishing common rules before beginning the game can save some hurt feelings later on!
I've also learned that Rook cards were introduced in 1906 as a Christian alternative to standard playing cards which included face cards, thought to be inappropriate and associated with gambling. A deck of Rook cards includes numbered cards, eleven through fourteen, in the place of the jack, queen, king and ace cards of a standard deck. Instead of a joker, there is a card with a rook, a member of the crow family of birds. Thus, the name Rook.
Under our family rules, the "Red One" catches the Rook Bird. A real learning moment presents when a mischievous youth plays his Red One to capture his Mother's Bird, "setting" her for good measure. Shirley sent Mike to bed on more than one occasion for pulling this trick.