A family’s 30-year long game of Scrabble, and the meaning of words


When I used to be born, my dad and mom — a author and an artist residing in the southeastern most nook of Eastern Europe — have been residing in a dorm room, which was on no account geared up to deal with a child. I used to be a really mild sleeper, and my poor dad and mom discovered themselves needing to seek out one thing they may do quietly in order to not disturb my uncommon moments of peace.

So, they bought a Scrabble set and performed by candlelight, both to “keep it romantic” or as a result of they didn’t personal a desk lamp. My mother says she doesn’t keep in mind which, however rushes so as to add that that is the motive there are wax stains on the little canvas pouch the place the letter tiles go. This random board game buy would mark the starting of what’s now a event that’s been occurring for practically three many years, spanning two generations, and that includes many buddies as visitor gamers at our desk.

Growing up at the desk

A battered old box of Scrabble, the spaces rendered with Cyrillic characters.

The authentic Scrabble set, superior and now in semi-retirement solely as a result of we’ve misplaced a couple of letter tiles.
Photo: Neda Marie Valcheva

I don’t keep in mind the first time I performed a game of Scrabble, however I’m certain I used to be too younger to know any good words and bought my ass totally kicked by my dad. If I seemed actually arduous by means of the piles of scoresheet notebooks from the late ‘90s, I may most likely discover the actual date, however today these are sealed away and archived like museum items. It seems that the glue that holds collectively a notepad begins to surrender a couple of many years into its service. What was as soon as a meticulously saved scoreboard has begun to dissolve right into a pile of pages crammed with numbers and doodles in the margins.

A carefully lined page with red ink shows the scores of Scrabble games. It says “Coronavirus Tournament 2020” at the top in Cyrillic letters.

Day one of the Coronavirus Tournament 2020, dated March 14.
Photo: Neda Marie Valcheva

When my child sister was lastly sufficiently old to spell, we began together with her in our video games. I keep in mind being extraordinarily pissed off, the method solely a preteen will be, at any time when she’d take too long to put in writing out some quick, easy phrase and inevitably lose anyway.

We’re now each in our 20s and we’ve been residing away from residence, and in numerous international locations, so it’s at all times a deal with at any time when we get to be again at our childhood residence’s eating room desk and play with our mother. Dad hardly ever joins these days, both to indicate mercy and let any of us win, or as a result of he’s scared his daughters would lastly beat him. Either method, it’s a successful technique as he’s been promoted to argument-settler and arbiter as an alternative.

Playing in quarantine

In March of final yr, like a lot of the relaxation of the world, all of us ended up at residence and in quarantine collectively. On the first night of Bulgaria’s first lockdown, I wrote the words “Coronavirus Tournament” subsequent to the date in the scoresheet pocket book as a result of this bizarre new actuality needed to be accounted for in my notes — the identical method I’d accounted for video games performed on birthdays, holidays, and exceptionally late nights. It felt vital to present our lockdown video games a reputation, as if inside our home I may neglect the circumstances that saved us inside and focus as an alternative on the indisputable fact that we have been all residence and had time to be with one another.

My household is a Scrabble household the method different households are roadtrip households, or Christmas card image households, or we really use words to precise our emotions households. When my dad noticed us arrange the desk that night time, and determined to partake for the first time in ages, I took all 4 chairs round the desk’s being occupied as all the reassurance I wanted that we have been about to face this era collectively, and that it could someway be OK. I don’t suppose anybody ever verbalized any of that, however the camaraderie of that first coronavirus event game was sufficient.

Back then, I anticipated all of this to final a couple of months at worst. A yr later, and proper as we have been all beginning to recuperate from our personal run-ins with the virus, we discovered ourselves celebrating. My sister had submitted her undergraduate dissertation from the confines of quarantine, so we marked the event by taking part in one other installment of the coronavirus event.

Playing collectively this previous yr has develop into a ritual of types, or a bunch meditation. Whenever any of us sit down at the desk, it kickstarts a collection of traditions which might be comforting of their consistency: The board at all times faces my sister, whereas the relaxation of us must take care of it from the sides; we every draw one letter to find out the order we play in; I at all times take the notes; the winner is at all times the one to place the game away at the finish. The dropping events get the satisfaction of watching you set away all 100 tiles, so whoever received can’t gloat an excessive amount of.

The previous yr has proven me greater than ever how grounding it’s to have a inexperienced board with hard-set guidelines to return to, and it’s no shock that the consolation of our game has creeped into each single member of my family’s artwork, at the least as soon as, in a technique or one other.

Words about words

A ceramic mug with a pleasant scene on it. Scrabble tiles flow around the rim.

This mug was commissioned to my ceramicist mom by a pair who has an analogous relationship to the game.
Photo: Nega Marie Valcheva

We have by no means spoken about the significance of our endless game, however I do know it means the identical to everybody else in my household. We maintain returning to utilizing these excellent squares that department off into words in all instructions. They are a form of visible metaphor in our respective artmaking, and I consider that speaks to a shared understanding. Spending time with the board, and the tiles, and the folks at the desk is a language of love. It is an expression of care and togetherness, which we then search to share with the exterior world — both by means of the artwork we’ve made, or by means of a easy invitation to play.

Lemonade salesman says: They deal in words because words make sense. LOSS is just four points. COPE is twice as many. Those are good words, simple words, and they maye more sens than what’s actually happening outside the window. It’s easy to watch the sunrise knowing you spent the night winning.

From my play Four Letter Words, wherein the Apocalypse occurs over the span of a game of Scrabble.
Image: Neda Marie Valcheva

To somebody who’s by no means performed the method we do, Scrabble could seem to be a game of cramming the dictionary, strategizing to get the most factors and outsmarting your folks. In actuality, dealing in words along with your family members will at all times result in greater than that. In each single game I’ve performed, my tablemates and I’ve discovered ourselves recognizing a story the place there shouldn’t be any, laughing when words cross over in a method which appears to attach them.

A quick movie by my sister, Iva.

No one ever remembers the discovered tales after the game will get put away. Every game is a one-night-only efficiency; an unrepeatable story the place my household is each the storyteller and the viewers. When the curtain falls, the specifics get forgotten and all we’re left with is the reminiscence of one other night spent at play.

Mechanically, Scrabble is just not a collaborative storytelling game, however in the event you play it proper, at any time when people and words are concerned, a narrative is in the end inevitable.




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