Wiesenberg (pan): 014 Sophie remembers


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Pan Player+. This entry in the “Aunt Sophie” series covers pan (or panguingue), which is a multi-player form of rummy, often played for money.

Michael Wiesenberg index.


Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg


Aunt Sophie remembers

Y’hay shmay rabba m’vorach,” chanted my Aunt Sophie, me, and a handful of other mourners.

B’reech hu,” responded the remainder of the congregation at the proper moment.

It’s been five years since my Uncle Max passed away, but Aunt Sophie observes every yahrtzeit at the synagogue. If I’m in town — and I try to be — I always go with her, as much to give her moral support as to say a memorial prayer for the man who was like a father to me for much of my life. I wasn’t surprised to see a tear glisten on Sophie’s cheek just below her dark glasses. Each year, as the memorial of his passing approaches, Aunt Sophie dreads the service. She doesn’t know if she can handle the grief. She hates to stand up to say the prayer in front of all those people. It makes her feel better to have me come with her.

The prayer ended. The rabbi made a few announcements, and then invoked the priestly blessing upon those present. All sang Adon Olam, and another Friday evening service ended.

Not in any hurry

The congregants started shuffling slowly toward the meeting room for the Oneg Shabbat. People who see each other only at shul slowed down progress by stopping to shake hands and converse with each other. We were not in any hurry and waited patiently for the clumps to unclot and continue out of the sanctuary.

“Always my Max loved these services,” snuffled Aunt Sophie. Our way was blocked, so we stopped and waited about 20 feet behind one of the bottlenecks, and also out of earshot of anyone. Sophie would never reveal her grief to any but me.

“I know,” I agreed, “and when I was little he brought me twice a week.”

“And he hated frivolity,” she continued. “I could never have told him about losing at pan.”

“You could never have told him about winning, either,” I ventured. “He didn’t have much use for gambling.”

“Well,” she offered, “I think he would have been happier if you had done something with that degree in English you got from Stanford. But he knew you were making good money playing poker. And he was truly proud when you won the World Series of Poker.”

“That was just one event,” I explained, “and, anyway, he never said anything to me about it.”

“I know,” Aunt Sophie put in, “to you he couldn’t. But to me he did. Even so, he never would have put up with me playing pan.”

Just then, Bernie Schwartz, the youngish president of the congregation, appeared at our sides. “Don’t say where you know me from,” he whispered.

“Hi, Bernie,” said Aunt Sophie.

“I didn’t even know you were president,” I ventured, “until I saw you on the bima with the rabbi.”

“Nobody here knows,” he hissed urgently, “that I play cards. You’re the only ones I’ve ever seen in here from the cardroom.”

Secret is safe

“Your secret,” I assured him, “is safe with us.” The conversant congregants blocking our way finally finished their schmoossing, and we could continue out. Schwartz gave us one more pleading look, and then hurried on to wish gut Shabbas to several among the congregation who might otherwise think he was slighting them.

We joined those gathered in the meeting room. Rabbi O’Rourke lifted a glass of wine, and intoned the kiddush. Others had helped themselves from a table crowded with liqueur glasses filled with Manischewitz Concord Grape, and began sipping their wine.

“Mrs. Cohen, how are you?” queried a matronly type.

“Well,” Aunt Sophie began, “I’ve been better.”

“Of course,” soothed the woman, “it’s your husband’s yahrtzeit, isn’t it? How nice to see you again! Have you tried some of my black bottom cupcakes? And there’s tea for your nephew.” As far as this lady was concerned, I would always be just barely a bar mitzvah bocher.

“Thank you, Mrs. Ergon,” replied Aunt Sophie. “If the cupcakes came from you, I know they’ll be delicious.”

Glad you came

“Mrs. Cohen,” interjected Rabbi O’Rourke, “we’re so glad you came. And brought your young man, too. We don’t see the two of you nearly often enough. Do you know our new president, Bernie Schwartz? Bernie, this is Sophie Cohen and her nephew,” giving my name.

Bernie looked nervous for a moment, afraid that we would admit prior acquaintance, but we played it straight.

“Mr. Schwartz?” repeated Aunt Sophie. “Pleased to meet your acquaintance.”

“Mr. Schwartz,” I echoed. Bernie was relieved.

“They were so nice to me,” observed Aunt Sophie in the Buick on the way home. “I don’t know why I dreaded being here so. So tell me, Dollink, how do I decide whether or not to play a marginal hand when there might be a few players in the hand?”

“Aunt Sophie,” I stated, “it’s Shabbas. We’re not going to talk about gambling now.”

Next “Aunt Sophie” pending

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