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Mah Jong Ladies

Guest Blogger Laurie Deutsch Mozian lives and writes in Ulster County, NY. "I wrote this piece in celebration of my new Mah-Jong set that arrived this year as a gift from my friend Stacey Brooks."

The name of the game has the power of a strong aroma, it evokes a flash back to 1956:

“Open the door and let the ladies in” my mother yelled from the kitchen as she meticulously arranged deviled eggs on the plate. And in they streamed through the heavy maroon front door of our apartment. I was about seven years old. I tried to look fetching as I held the door open and they waltzed in dressed for an evening out. They smelled glamorous and their bracelets jingled and jangled as they deftly arranged the card table just the way they liked it. One of them heaved a slim brief case and set it atop the table; with a shift of her two thumbs she snapped open two latches on either side of that slim green faux alligator valise and together they began to unearth the treasure inside.

“Time for bed, say goodnight Laurie. “

The ladies barely nodded to me as all eyes were on the game. I was banished but not yet ready to leave. As interesting as these transformed housewives were, I was equally interested in the goodies my mother was churning out of the kitchen.

The food was unique and beautifully arranged; plates of crackers, nuts and chocolates were crowding the end tables. Large salty cashews and Droste’s candies modeled after tiny Dutch shoes filled with molten chocolate were nearly spilling off the dishes. Wow, this stuff was great, much higher end than the two chocolate Hershey kisses that I got for dessert. I skulked back down the long hallway to my bedroom momentarily defeated but not ready to give up. I was equally fascinated by the game, the women, and the food.

There was nothing in my room as interesting as the party going on outside, so I came back out with a plan. I would drop down to my stomach and crawl army style down the hallway using my forearms and wordlessly lay in wait until their attention was on the game and then nab one of those chocolate shoes. At the card table, four ladies sat with colorful Bakelite racks in front of them from which they arranged these beautiful tiles that had various numbers and designs. The tiles all had names and as the ladies discarded them into the center of the table the tiles would smack against one another and they would call them out “1 Bam, Green, 3 Dot, 4 Crack.” Then someone else would say “call” and the action stopped for a moment until the momentum built again. As the four women played, an extra, the fifth woman, would circulate in and out of the game when someone wanted to take a break. The woman who was hosting was usually the extra because she had all the hospitality duties to attend to.

My mother came out of the kitchen balancing a tray with tall frosted glasses on it; the ice was clinking against the glass. “Take one of these ladies and it will make your ‘shmusky’ hairs curl.” To this day I have never been able to unearth the definition of ‘shmusky’ so I can only guess that it’s Yiddish slang. The ladies laughed in embarrassed unison.

This was my time, my mother’s back was to me, as I lay in wait. But once in the living room I had to stand up to reach the food on the end table and that was when I came into their line of sight. “Violette”, one of the women alerted my mother with a nod to my presence, but I was already gone and giddy with my quarry.

Back in my room that candy went down fast, and I was still wanting more so I ventured out again, enticed by the smell of the perfume mixed with coffee, the laughter of the women, and the clicking of the tiles. Arm by arm and dragging my legs I crawled, but I was not brave enough to attempt another candy mission. I laid at the head of the hallway listening to the ladies and the clicking of the tiles and eventually fell asleep, dreaming of the day I would get my own Mah Jong set .

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