Let me tell you about my Aunt Nettie.
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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.
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.