My Aunt Nettie


by Roy Wilson


This is a true story and it took place in 1957, which is now a very long time ago.


Let me tell you about my Aunt Nettie.

Way back in about 1910 she married an older man who was an attorney for the Texaco Oil Company, and they lived a pretty good life.   It was certainly a better life than those scrabbled by most of my relatives during the 1930's.   The Great Depression was a hard era to live through.  Nettie was my grandmother's sister, and they often quarreled over the darndest things.  One time they didn't speak to each other for over a year because my Grandma Gertrude thought Nettie had worn one of her hats and lost it.   Turned out Nettie had returned it and given it to my grandpa who forgot where he put it.  Since he didn't want to face Grandma over it he let my aunt take the blame.  Only when the hat was found did the two of them speak to each other again, but it was really hard for Grandma to admit that it wasn't Nettie's fault after telling everybody about it.  Anyway, this is about my Aunt Nettie, not my grandma.

Her husband's passion was poker, and twice a month he and some of the Big Guys from Texaco would get a hotel room in Dallas for the weekend and smoke cigars, drink Jack Daniels and play for some pretty good stakes.  She told my mom they also told outragious lies to one another and called each other awful names.  My aunt was at his side all those years, never saying anything, only watching the game.   That went on for over forty years.   He played, she watched, and the two of them knew that life together was wonderful.

Uncle Abe died sometime around 1957 and Aunt Nettie took it pretty hard, and for the first time in her life spent a lot of time on the telephone with my grandma, talking about her loss.   Nettie still lived in Dallas then, but most of the family had moved to California during the second world war to look for jobs.  Grandma told Nettie she ought to come out for a visit and maybe put some of her grief behind her.   Three months later she was in Long Beach, knocking on the door.  Although she had sold her home, she said she didn't plan to stay because Dallas was where she wanted to die and be buried next to Abe, but she wanted to see what California had that Texas didn't already have, only bigger and better.

Three weeks later Nettie was not impressed with her tour of Hollywood and said it only took an afternoon to be tired of looking at the ocean - did California have anything else?   If not, she thought it might be time to go back to Texas.

"Well," my cousin Jim said, "There are some poker clubs in the city of Gardena that you might like to see.   Your nephew and I are going to play a few hands this evening.  Would you like to go with us and watch?"

She came home that evening and told everyone that the Horse Shoe Club was filled with pigeons, waiting to be plucked, and she wanted to go back the next night.  Nettie was almost 70 years old and had watched Abe play cards for more than half her life, with table stakes that ran into the thousands and against some very shrewd lawyers, so she knew something about the game and she wasn't impressed with the players she had seen.  For the first time since Uncle Abe's death she had something to be excited about, and there was a flush on her cheeks and a smile on her face when she talked about poker at the club in Gardena.

The next night she went straight to the highest stakes table in the room and bought a seat next to two young men who seemed pretty confident as they watched "grannie" sit down.   Three older men were at the table as well, and one of them asked if she had ever played before.   She hadn't, and that's what she told them.  They didn't even try to be polite about the snickers around the table.

Poor suckers.

She cleaned 'em out, winning almost $400 for the evening.  Do you know what $400 was worth back in 1957?   It was more than a month's rent on a luxurious apartment and that's what she used most of it for.   She found a place within walking distance of the Horse Shoe Club and moved in that weekend, saying she had decided to stay in California awhile.  She stayed for two more years, playing poker every day, and she became known as, "Grannie, the Terror of Gardena."

Let me tell you about my Aunt Nettie.  She never touched a card nor played a poker hand until she came to California, but once she started she never lost, either.  She had a lot of money when she came to visit, but she went home with even more.

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