The National Game of Texas

In 1887, in the tiny North Texas town of Trappe Spring, two young boys had a problem. Twelve-year-old William Thomas and 14-year-old Walter Earl both really liked playing cards – not games of gambling, but trick-taking card games similar to Bridge, Spades, Whist, and the like. The problem was, both young men came from devout Baptist families, and playing cards was absolutely forbidden. What to do?

Playing dominoes was allowed in their homes, but the boys found regular dominoes to be, well, boring. So they set out to invent a new game, using the strategy and skill of their favorite card games, but utilizing dominoes instead of the sinful pasteboards. After a few months of trial and error, they had their game, which they taught to their families. Their families enjoyed this new game and taught it to their neighbors. They liked it, too.

When their families moved to Fannin County, they took the game with them, and taught it to their new neighbors. It caught on there, too, and gradually spread across the whole state. And thus was born “The National Game of Texas” – 42.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Texans of all backgrounds and social levels would meet to play. In rural communities and big cities, neighbors would bring covered dishes to someone’s house on Saturday nights after work and eat together. Then, after the dishes were done and while the kids played outside, the grown-ups would sit and sip their sweet iced tea (these are mostly Baptists, remember!), and play 42. The game was played in homes, at churches, on picnics, and around campfires.

When the Texas boys went off to World War II, they took the game with them. There are lots of stories about G.I.s teaching the game to their buddies from New York and California. But at its heart, it was – and is – a Texas game, officially recognized by the state legislature as the “Official Domino Game of Texas.”

And although some think of it as a game for older people, it’s actually making a comeback among younger players. In fact, every year in Halletsville, there is a state championship, to crown the best “42” player in the state.

Like many great games, 42 is easy to learn and hard to master. The game is played with four people – two teams of two people each. You draw seven dominoes, then you bid on how many “tricks” you can take for your team. There’s a total of 42 points for each round – hence, the name. Knowing how to bid well is the key to being a good player.

If you want to know more about the history and strategy of playing 42, you need to get a copy of Winning 42: Strategy & Lore of the National Game of Texas, by Dennis Roberson. There are also online versions of the game, where you can practice against computer-generated players.

The competition, skill and strategy of a well-played game is certainly enjoyable. But for many, the real pleasure of the game is the time spent with friends – the fun of getting together with neighbors to talk, to visit, and to share life together.

We played “regular” dominoes in my family when I was growing up, not 42, but a few years ago, I got to play a few hands when I was visiting a friend at her nursing home. I discovered how much I enjoyed the strategy of the game, along with enjoying the fellowship of visiting with friends, old and new. I’m still not very good at it, but I do like the game.

During the past year, we’ve all been forced to spend too much time apart from others, but as we go forward from here, maybe we need to re-discover the simple pleasures of good friends spending time together, enjoying conversation and a good game.

William and Walter would be proud

A Very Special Trip

In February 2009, I was blessed to be part of a group from Beltway Park in Abilene that went to the Holy Land. A bus ride to DFW, a flight to Atlanta, a flight to Tel Aviv and there we were, in Israel!

Our first stop was Akko, on the Mediterranean coast in the far northwest corner of the country. Akko is a very ancient city, referenced in the Hebrew text of Job 38:11. In NT times, it was known by the name of Ptolemais – Paul went through it towards the end of his 3rd missionary journey, heading towards Jerusalem – Acts 21:7. The city was a major port for the Crusaders, conquered by the English King Richard the Lionheart, retaken by the Muslims, and later the site of one of the few defeats ever suffered by Napoleon.

All that to say, it’s kinda historic.

We went down the coast to Caesarea, the man-made port city constructed by Herod the Great, then on to Mt. Carmel, to the area where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest – 1 Kings 18.  We headed east, through the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo, and on to our hotel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (which is actually a freshwater lake).

On February 10, we visited the site where it’s believed that Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. Then it was on to a chapel by the lake itself, to the area where it’s believed that Jesus cooked breakfast for the disciples after His resurrection – John 21. Jesus and Peter went for a walk along the rocky shore, and Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

We went to Jesus’ adopted hometown of Capernaum next. Words cannot really describe how special this part of the trip was for me. We know about more miracles per square foot that took place there, than any other place In Israel. The synagogue leader’s daughter, and the woman with the issue of blood. The centurion’s servant, and the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him down through the roof. Peter’s mother-in-law, and a miraculous catch of fish. And on, and on, and on – yet most of the people there did not believe. 

Something very special and personal happened to me while we were there. I began to think about all that Jesus did there, and all the stories from the Gospels – inviting Peter and the others to become “fishers of men,” visiting Matthew’s tax collecting booth, teaching in the synagogue, and more. Capernaum is not a very big place – the entire village would probably fit between the Haskell square and the high school – and all the spots where these things happened were just yards from where I was standing. Here’s the weird part: it was almost as if I could see the faces of all the Sunday School teachers that I had when I was a kid, and I could almost hear them telling me those stories again. And here I was, standing in the middle of where all those things happened.

I had never felt the Spirit of Jesus more keenly than I did in that moment.

We were in Israel for almost two weeks. We visited the Jewish fortress of Masada, the oasis at En Gedi (one of King David’s favorite places!), and the Dead Sea. Of course, we toured Jerusalem, went to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, and walked the Via Dolorosa. We saw the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Gordon’s Calvary, and shared communion outside the Garden Tomb.

Here I am on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem and the site of the ancient temple.

It was a great trip, and I’m ready to go back. There are some places I want to see again, and lots more places that I want to visit. For those who say, “Oh, I’d never go – it’s much too dangerous” – not so. The most dangerous part of the trip was the bus ride on I-20! Stay with your tour group, and you’ll be fine.

I believe every Christian should go to Israel at least once, if possible. It will make the Bible come alive in ways you never imagined. And maybe it will renew your faith to a deeper level than you ever thought possible.

Movies x5, The Sequel

Regular readers of these columns may remember that back in October, I did an article entitled, “The Movies Times Five.” It’s a little game I play with friends of mine who are movie fans, where someone throws out a category, and you have to come up with five good movies in that category. We’ve looked at favorite John Wayne, good war pictures, best Christmas movies, etc.

Are you a movie fan? And especially, are you a fan of the classics? You can play along. And by the way, I heard the other day that with Abilene’s COVID hospitalization rate coming down, the Paramount Theatre was planning to re-open; their first showing is scheduled for this weekend, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (Not one of my favorites, but hey, to each his or her own!)

FAVORITE COURTROOM DRAMAS – Courtroom movies deal with life-and-death issues, and always, the search for truth. No wonder they remain such a vehicle for great storytelling! Two other favorites: Inherit the Wind and A Few Good Men.

  • 5. Anatomy of a Murder. Jimmy Stewart and George C. Scott face off in a murder trial of an Army officer. Lee Remick somehow manages to be both gorgeous and innocent at the same time.
  • 4. The Caine Mutiny. There has never been a mutiny on board a US Navy vessel. This movie plays, “What if?” Humphrey Bogart, José Ferrer, and Van Johnson sta
  • 3.  To Kill a Mockingbird. All aspiring actors (and trial lawyers, for that matter) should have to watch Gregory Peck’s closing argument to the jury.  This is how it’s done.
  • 2. Twelve Angry Men. Oh my, what a cast.  A tense, real-time drama of a jury that votes 11-1 for a conviction.  Then Henry Fonda starts asking questions.
  • 1. The Verdict. Paul Newman’s greatest performance, ever. A washed-up, alcoholic, ambulance-chaser has one final chance to do the right thing. James Mason and Jack Warden co-star.

FAVORITE ROBERT REDFORD MOVIES – My wife has had a thing for Redford since before I ever knew her. I really wanted to NOT like the guy, just out of spite, but I have to confess, I’m a fan. Honorable Mentions: The Natural and The Great Waldo Pepper.

  • 5. All the President’s Men. Redford is often at his best when he is co-starring with someone good; Dustin Hoffman more than rises to the occasion. Don’t miss the late Hal Holbrook as Woodward’s secret informer, Deep Throat.
  • 4. The Sting. One of two “buddy” pictures he made with Paul Newman (see #3 on this list for the other). Two con men try to get their revenge on a gangster who murdered a friend of theirs.
  • 3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A very special movie for several reasons: It was the movie Kathy and I went to see on our very first date; also, I’m a big fan of Katherine Ross.
  • 2. The Electric Horseman. Gorgeous scenery of a cowboy trying to “un-screw up his life.” With Jane Fonda and co-starring Willie Nelson, who also supplies several songs for the soundtrack.
  • 1. Three Days of the Condor. He’s a book-reading analyst for the CIA. That’s all he does: read books. Then one day while he’s at lunch, someone murders all of his co-workers. He tries to figure out how to stay alive. And is there anyone he can trust? Faye Dunaway and Max von Sydow co-star.

FIVE COMEDIES – Let’s lighten up and have some fun. LOTS of honorable mentions for this category, but especially don’t miss Tootsie, Arsenic & Old Lace, and Bringing Up Baby.

  • 5.  Harvey. Jimmy Stewart and his imaginary friend. Who’s really the crazy one here?
  • 4.  Blazing Saddles. Mel Brooks makes fun of westerns, as well as everything else.
  • 3.  Some Like It Hot. Jack Lemmon & Tony Curtis witness a mob hit. Things get a little weird.
  • 2.  What’s Up, Doc? Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal in a classic farce about mixed-up luggage.
  • 1.  It Happened One Night. Clark Gable and Greta Garbo. She’s a spoiled heiress. He’s a hard-boiled newspaper man. Time for Joshua to blow his trumpet.

As a preview of coming attractions, in future columns we will look at favorite baseball movies, Bogart’s best, Film Noir, and more. And until then, as Siskel & Ebert used to say, I’ll see you at the movies.

My Coronavirus Vaccine

I got my Coronavirus vaccine the other day, and I feel fine. I’m also very thankful for it.

A little background: I’m in group “1-B.” That group is people who are 65 and older, or who are between 16 and 64 but have other health conditions that make them susceptible to having a more serious case of the virus. So even though I’m “only” 64, having Diabetes qualified me to get the vaccine.

Pharmacist Intern Bria Brooks, of The Drug Store, gives me my Coronavirus vaccine.

I’m a big believer in vaccines. To his dying day, my dad had a small, circular scar high up on his left arm, near his shoulder, where he got the smallpox vaccine when he was young. I remember in elementary school being given a sugar cube with the polio vaccine in it. I also remember almost dying when I was in the first grade from the measles; my fever was so high, I remember having hallucinations of snakes crawling up and down my bedroom wall. And I was terrified of snakes. So when our kids came along, I was very happy to get them vaccinated to protect them from measles. And mumps. And a host of other childhood diseases.

All of that to say, for me, getting a vaccine is a no-brainer. My faith tells me that all healing comes from God, but I also believe that God grants some people the gift of healing through the use of medicine, research, and yes, vaccines to help us not get sick in the first place. I get a flu shot every year because I hate getting the flu. I’ve had to be vaccinated for all sorts of diseases that we don’t even have in this country, so that I could be a part of the team for various overseas mission trips.

Coronavirus is serious stuff. It is NOT a hoax, NOT something that only happens on TV or in big cities, and it is NOT something you can ignore if you’re young and healthy. I have lost several friends to it locally, including my good friend and former boss, Ken Lane, along with a dear former pastor of mine in East Texas, Robley Soileau. (Yes, he was a Cajun.) My son Drew had two friends – both healthy young men in their 20s – who died from it in Dallas. My brother in Houston is in the hospital right now with complications from it. I have another friend in Abilene, a health care worker, who nearly died from it right after Thanksgiving; he was hospitalized for weeks and has still not fully recovered.

So I registered for my turn, and I was delighted the other day when I received a call from The Drug Store, telling me that I could come to the Haskell Civic Center and receive my shot. They asked me a few questions to make sure I was eligible and told me when to be there and what to bring. I showed up that morning; it was a reasonably well-organized and smooth process, and I was in and out of there in well under an hour.

I received the Moderna vaccine. It was relatively painless, and I have had no reaction from it. I will have to get the follow-up shot in a few weeks, but I’ve had other two-dose vaccines like that before, and it’s not a big deal.

Let me say this as directly as I can: Get the shot. Get it as soon as you can. We have buried enough people, lost enough time and money, cast enough blame, and made more than enough excuses about why we can’t / shouldn’t / won’t comply. Don’t believe the conspiracy theories – this vaccine is not going to implant a microchip in you or wire you into the 5G network. It doesn’t alter your DNA, it won’t give Bill Gates control over your mind, and ladies, it will not cause infertility.

Those theories are on the same level as wearing hats made out of aluminum foil, to prevent the government from doing secret radio experiments on your brain.

And for a while longer, until we have a majority of folks vaccinated, let us keep on wearing masks, washing our hands, avoiding big crowds, and observing all the proper protocols. Please.

I know we’re all tired of it. But too many loved ones have already died.