Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rook - an Itawamba pastime


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.

7 comments:

Don Dulaney said...

What a wonderful post. It brings back great memories of the games at Lawrence & Pearls on Christmas eve. I have the library table that the rook cards were kept in. One point I might add to the traditions of the game, is the signals such as scratching your nose if you had the red one and your ear if you have the rook. I learned of these signals on Lawrence's back porch by my older cousins Thomas and another that shall remain nameless. It was a wonderful tradition and I am glad to see you bring it back, as one of your on.

Ma Jean said...

Don, If I ever play rook with you, don,t let me catch you scratching your nose or ear, or anything for that matter

Anonymous said...

Thank you for 'splaining this game of Rook! or the Itawamba Co. version. . . back in the 30's and early '40's when we often went to Sunday morning church services with my grandparents, Morman & Kate Robinson Stone at Bexar Methodist church, we often got back home to find a game of Crokonole, Dominoes or Rook already in progress on the front porch if the weather was nice. The Lindsey men (Mike your daddy was one "of em") shall be nameless who would be rooted in their seats awaiting Granny Kate to hurry up with her Sunday dinner so Granddaddy "could come out to play!" She raised her own fryers that she killed, cleaned and cooked before we went to church and remebering this was the day before REA came to these parts so that meant a hurry up fire in the woodstove to make her famous "mile high" biscuits to "sop the gravy with". The Stone's oldest granddaughter, the late Naomi Stone Jones was the most often repeated child of the 8 grand children, and Granny Kate's favorite involved her fluffy biscuits and the saying went like this from Naomi when they sat down to eat: "hurry up and pass me a biscuit so I can sop sop sop." !! It took me a long time to learn what that meant. These rules could only happen every other Sunday because Bexar Church was in a group of 4 churches served by a circuit riding minister. I know this sounds confusing to anyone who isn't familiar to this type of church organization. Bexar got a morning church service once a month and an afternoon service once a month; the alternating Sundays (morning or afternoon) we had Sunday School while the preacher made his way to Shottsville, Bethlehem and I can't remember if the fourth church was Barnesville or Smyrna, but I believe it was Smyrna.

Mona, you have taught me more about Rook than I ever imagined in watching these grown men have so much fun with a hand full of cards. The only "catch phrase" that my aged mind recalls is someone always boasting "we set you" or "we made you go set" - I always wondered if there is a difference!?! I remember what that Rook box looked like, but I can't recall seeing the face of a card.

We had snow for Chirstmas in our neck of the woods, and now we await to see if the snow falling this afternoon will be around for the New Years festivities! Please have a Happy one!bettye

Apple said...

I have a deck of Rook cards but have never been able to get any of my family interested in playing. I enjoyed your memories of the game and the history of the game itself. I hope your new/old tradition takes off.

innerjuju said...

Rook is such a staple in our formative years that we actually started having an extended family tournament which is held annually the second Saturday night in March. This year will be our 27th year! We don't play with the Red One but our version is just as much fun and we all look forward to getting together once a year.

Glad to know that Georgia isnt the only place that continues the tradition!!

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