45. Scars and Legacies

45. Scars and Legacies

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

Scars and Legacies

Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.

~Nathaniel Hawthorne

They try not to. But all parents scar their children in some fashion. Some children are luckier than others in the type or number of scars they bear. But even the lucky ones can be bitter for years.

My scar? A phobia that I am only now, after almost forty-five years, overcoming. And it’s still hard to say in public, but here goes: I am Scrabble-phobic. Yes, that’s right—I hyperventilate if anyone even says the word “Scrabble.”

“B-A-G,” I put on the board one evening long ago, proud that I had not only made a word, but used the high-scoring letter “B.”

“Moira, that’s a terrible move! You’ve left open a triple word space for anyone who can add an ‘S’ to ‘bag,’” my father said.

I was crushed. I couldn’t even see the remaining tiles because my eyes were swimming in tears.

My younger sister got it even worse. “Deirdre, you should never waste a triple letter space on a vowel.” The poor thing barely knew what a vowel was! She burst into tears.

My parents played once a week with another couple who were also Scrabble fiends. They all knew the most obscure Scrabble words. They played with amazing strategy. And my parents played the same way when they played with us. Until one day we mutinied.

Holding my sister’s hand, we stood just inside the doorway to the dining room where the Scrabble board sat, its smooth wooden tiles and bright red and blue double and triple spaces waiting. “Daddy, we don’t want to play anymore.”

He roared, “Why not?”

Scrabble’s too hard for us,” I managed to squeak out. Deirdre just nodded.

He strode out of the room and down the hall. For such a small man, he could exude great power. And he never again asked us to play.

Recently a writer friend of mine sent me an invitation to play an online game. I clicked on the link. And there, seeming to pulsate in front of my eyes, was a Scrabble board. And there were the tiles, swaying in a taunting dance. And in the middle, a word. You can call it something else, but this was Scrabble. Spiders crawled down my spine. I clicked “exit.”

But despite my Scrabble phobia, my dad had also instilled in me a great love of words and grammar. He loved to read his Webster’s International Dictionary after dinner. He delighted in teaching me correct grammar and helping me grow my vocabulary. He is the reason I went to law school and am now a children’s writer.

So I went back. I looked at my tiles. I saw a good word I could play on her word. I played it. It felt okay. Before I knew it, I had another invitation to play.

But this game was different. This player NEVER opened a triple word, NEVER played a low scoring letter on a triple letter space and rarely played fewer than three words at once. This player was from my father’s Scrabble school.

Tentatively, I made a word. She immediately used it and made two more. I lost by a tremendous amount. But I kept playing. With her. With others.

I have five games going right now. And at the moment (although I know it won’t last) I am beating her! And more importantly, I’m having fun. Because the legacy of loving words is stronger than my Scrabble scar, which, at this point, has faded almost to invisibility.

~Moira Rose Donohue

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