When I was little, my paternal Grandfather Abe and I enjoyed many hours of playing Rummy at his kitchen table.  First, my Grandfather would conduct the impressive table shuffle, then the mystifying riffle shuffle and then the cards would be flicked out – dealt one by one to each player.   Next, “the gathering of the cards”…where you familiarize yourself with the cards you’ve been dealt with and strategize how you will proceed.

While the “big kids” quickly made their choices of which cards to keep, I would always need a bit more time.  Grandpa would always wait so patiently for me to complete my turn – which is not an easy thing to do.  Ever try playing Rummy with a 6-year-old?  Poor Gramps had to endure my eight-minute turns – four minutes to decide which card to get rid of and four minutes to arrange the cards in my hand so I could see what I had to work with.

Grandpa noticed my frustration stemming from not being able to hold all of the cards in my hand.  With an eye for “fixing,” he disappeared for a few minutes.  After a few clanks and clangs from spelunking through his kitchen, he returned to the table with a million dollar idea.  He took two plastic coffee can lids, stapled them together in the middle and placed the cards in fan-like fashion and viola! my very own personal card-holder!

I proudly held that cardholder filled with my cards spread out in a beautiful fan of black spades and red diamonds, of kings and queens and oh my… this was a whole new card game! I’ll never forget the sensation of pure fascination watching in awe how my Grandfather so quickly thought of a solution – creating something from nothing.

Thanks to Grandpa’s ingenuity, the once anxiety-provoking situation of decision-making was now time spent bonding with a loved one, making the experience far more enjoyable to play (for everyone).

My grandparents, as Holocaust survivors, had become experts at relying on themselves because they were forced to.  It was their quick, out-of-the box thinking that led them to survive the incredible hardships they experienced.  We have much to learn from their incredible sense of self-reliance.

The seed was planted in my mind – to approach life with an intention to make the best of any situation by working smarter, not harder.  These days, visits with my grandfather are still filled with the same amount of love and laughter as when I was a child, but where there once were many joys, there are a lot more “oys.”  I’ve watched how the cruel hands of time have left their marks on my 93-year-old grandfather.  It’s hard to watch him struggle to remember things, not being able to participate in conversations because of his hearing loss, and witnessing the constant “it’s-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue” look on his face.

I am always trying to find activities that empower him and give him a sense of autonomy.  And while there aren’t many, I have learned that although his verbal abilities may not be what they once were – the man can still play a round of Rummy.

Recently, our family played 14-card Rummy together – and while we’d quickly make our decisions, when it got to my Grandpa’s turn, we’d wait…and wait and I noticed he was struggling to keep his cards together in his hand.  They kept falling out when he tried to see what cards he was dealing with, leading to a sense of frustration that looked all too familiar.

Just then, a cartoon light-bulb appeared above my head, ‘I’ll be right back.”  I went scurrying through the kitchen drawers and found two lids from the “The Kosher Nosh Deli,” stapled ’em in the middle and arranged his cards in a fan-like manner.  Grandpa held to the lids, smiled with relief and said, “hey…that’s a good idea” – without even realizing, that he was the mastermind behind this invention.  We quickly reminded him that we were merely resurrecting his genius.  (I later saw this product on an “as seen on TV” commercial).

If there’s one thing I’ve learned and continue to learn from my Grandfather – it’s that in life, while we don’t get to choose the cards we are dealt, we do have the choice of what we do with them.  We could choose to complain that none of the cards are the same suit.  We could get mad if someone else has a better hand, we could worry that we’ll never get a straight or a flush – but none of these paths would lead us to a better hand of cards.  All we can do is arrange our cards to the best of our ability, be mindful of what we have to work with and play an honest game.  But the most important thing is to enjoy the company of who we’re playing the game with.  Whether it’s a 6-year-old or a 93-year-old, we all have a card or two to share that might just help us win the game.

Brooklyn, New York