YOUR WORDS MATTER–and other life lessons from playing Scrabble with Grandma

Some day I’m going to have spectacular silver hair and live in a retirement community where I’ll get to play Scrabble and sip wine every day.

When I told this plan to my husband, he shrugged and told me it was a good thing I was already practicing for retirement by hitting the wine and the Scrabble on a regular basis. And then he told me we’d save a fortune if I stopped dyeing my hair every month and went gray now. Bless his heart. I ignored his comment and poured another glass. This old gray mare is still in denial and will continue to dye her hair even if it means going back to ramen noodles for dinner to afford my salon appointments. I said I’d go gray in retirement! I’m not there yet.

But Scrabble, it’s my jam! I play it online, on a board the old fashioned way, and I even have a ginormous 7-foot wall-mounted beauty of a Scrabble board. Yes, I take my Scrabble seriously. Thanks to my Granda Esther, I’ve been playing it faithfully for years. In fact, I cannot remember my life before Scrabble. 

Grandma started grooming us grandkids for the game as soon as we could talk. Scrabble was her jam, too. And you can just forget the old cardboard model. She took her Scrabble seriously, too. She was the proud owner of an upscale, plastic Scrabble board on a swivel. It was the Cadillac meets Lazy-Susan of board games. An engineering marvel!

Let me tell you a little about Grandma. For starters, she was a force to be reckoned with—one of the most hard-working, intense, vivacious women I’ve ever known. She had her way of doing things and didn’t miss a detail. She entered a room like a whirlwind and left like a tornado. Oh, and her hair was like the clouds that form before a thunderstorm: spectacular, silver and thick. 

Grandma was also woman of strong convictions. She never hesitated to share a story with a moral. And she always included a reference to God. She often did both while playing Scrabble. I learned a lot about life, and love, and loss, and faith, and even sex (because who wouldn’t want to have sex talks with their Grandma!) as we counted little wooden letter tiles and strategized over double and triple letter scores. 

I lived at home with my parents and worked three jobs during my college summers, but made time to meet Grandma for a competitive game of Scrabble, even if it meant starting at 10pm after my waitressing shift at the local American Legion. We’d sit at her dining room table with the cream-colored eyelet table cloth, sipping lemonade (she was most definitely not a wine drinker) and looking up words in her well-worn dictionary. 

Her silver hair sparkled in the incandescent light of the brass chandelier that hung over the table. I can still remember how her eyes would light up when she’d hit a triple word score and how her voice would go all monotone as she read me the definition of some bizarre word. Muzjiks are Russian peasants, in case you were curious. 

But those moments with Grandma taught me so much more than definitions or vocabulary. During our epic Scrabble sessions, she’d always manage to squeeze a life lesson or three. Here are five nuggets of wisdom I learned from playing Scrabble with Grandma Esther:

1. Healthy competition is good. 

Competition often gets a bad rap. But learning to compete with a positive attitude and appropriate boundaries is a necessary life skill. A healthy competitor respects the talent of an opponent and uses it as motivation to work harder toward a goal (even if that goal is winning a Scrabble game).

2. Learn to spell well.

Don’t underestimate the importance of spelling words correctly. It reflects your credibility, intelligence and reliability. In a world where details matter, proper spelling indicates that you care about how you do business. Need a place to start? Get yourself an old-fashioned Scrabble board and dictionary. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

3.  Your words matter. Choose them carefully.

Whether selecting tiles for a game or language for a conversation, what you say can directly impact an outcome. There is power in words: power to build up, encourage, and honor, and power to degrade, discourage and disrespect. Use your power wisely. And as Grandma suggested, if you can’t say anything kind, you might not want to say anything at all. 

4.  Make time to do something you enjoy.

In the busy-ness of life, we are stretched and don’t feel like we can “make time” to do things that make us happy. Grandma disagreed. She made time for Scrabble and afternoon lemonade and reading with children. She prioritized time with others. She knew not to hurry through the good stuff, to slow down and appreciate it.

5.  Be present, without distractions.

When Grandma sat down to play Scrabble, you had her undivided attention. She wasn’t checking emails. She was making eye contact and caring conversation. You felt like you were the most important person on the planet. Honor others with your undivided attention and give them the affirmation, acceptance and validation they deserve, just like Grandma did.

Rest in peace, Grandma Esther. I know you’re in a place with golden Scrabble tiles and endless triple word scores. I’ll keep practicing in anticipation of the day when we can sit down together and play again.  

Love, Kelly

One Comment on “YOUR WORDS MATTER–and other life lessons from playing Scrabble with Grandma”

  1. Thanks Kelly. Great piece. She did her best as often as she was able. She raised your father alone for 10+ years (Thanks to polio taking her spouse).
    We all have mountains to climb. She cried often and laughed hard. She made life fun. She sewed quilt tops for missions and baked for family in a small 2 room + bath apartment. Thanks for the memory!

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