Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Wasted Brain in Oz

Over our nightly game of Scrabble, he’d pop the cigar from his mouth and wag it at me as if I were some kind of fool, which he thought I was anyway for he never got tired of reminding me of it back in the day: that my brains were wasted on me, a mere girl, I wouldn’t know what to do with them, when it should have been my brother, who was thick as two planks, who should have got them.

As I was saying, the cigar would be waving at me, trailing a stream of blue smoke, the lips would be pursed, he’d be staring at the Scrabble board, debating his next move, whistle-talking in that way he had, about too many consonants or too many vowels in his tiles, as if I, his brainy daughter, wasn’t challenged in such a way when it came to my turn.

He’d defend absurdities, like “oz”, referring to his absent best friend, the god of spelling, Father Ned, who’d use “oz” regularly, in defiance of the Scrabble dictionary which I handed to him, my temper bubbling in spite of myself: where in god’s name did “oz” appear, I’d demand of him and in response he’d take a long, deep puff and admonish me, his eyes rolling upward, telling me that the Scrabble dictionary was an American invention and what did they know about English and its usage please tell him, the expertise of Father Ned was all he, my father needed, thank you very much, for hadn’t Father Ned lived for years in America and could tell stories about it that would make your toes curl, what did the Americans know about English or the good Irish game of Scrabble.

So there we were, the fifty-year old divorced daughter, the widowed seventy-five-year old father, touring around America together in my car in search of his long lost uncle, Vincent Xavier Mullalley, who might be in Philadelphia, or maybe in Boston or New York, for he had emigrated suddenly out of Cobh in County Cork when he was sixteen, seventy years before, and they’d never heard another word from him and maybe one of the phone books in one of these cities would give him up like an offering to his nephew, my father, who was named for him and who spent the afternoons of our trip dialling up Mullalley strangers in these American cities asking in his thick unintelligible Cork accent if they had a Vincent Xavier in the family.

Before we left on this trip, I’d remembered that when I was still living back home before my own emigration, that together we’d always completed the challenging crosswords in the newspapers and followed up Sunday tea with a game of Scrabble where I would invariably beat him, much to his pouting annoyance, so I packed the Scrabble board for this road trip but after the second bout of “oz” in the first few evenings of playing I stretched that wasted brain of mine out even further and let him win each and every time and allowed him to gloat but not for long for I made sure he caught that little smirk on my face as I packed the game away and that would shut him up right there in his tracks.


  1. Ha, with a father like that you would have to let him win the games, but remind him at the same time that you let him, or leave him in doubt anyway. You did have a clever dad and that is good anyway. He passed the genes on to you, although he skipped your brother. Did you ever find Vincent Xavier? It would be a good ending to the story if you did. You were both so indefatigable.

  2. A challenging character, you might say. What a madcap mission, trying to find his long-lost uncle. I assume he returned home with no success but having enjoyed the crazy trip anyhow. And people who cheerfully cheat at Scrabble are soooo annoying....

  3. Omigoodness, you are Irish, aren't you!?! ;-)

    Good story, I bet you fit right in on The Rock!

  4. What a sweet post - would love to have a game of scrabble with you some day :-)

  5. I could almost see the two of you on that adventure, as I read. Lovely story, WWW!

  6. @Irene:
    Oh you understand him very well indeed!! VX never surfaced. I did have a funny thought at the time that he might be in jail!!
    He did enjoy the trip and returned many times.
    No denying that and yes I'm one of their own on The Rock!
    As long as you stay away from Oz!
    Thank you!

  7. Don't ever try playing Scrabble on Facebook, my dear. It is so frustrating. I regularly get the pants beaten off me by my Stepdaughter, because it allows freakish words like Qi and Phiz, which were never allowed in any Scrabble game I played.

    It's funny how Irish parents think certain characteristics should be allocated to certain of their offspring. My mother always thought my rather shapely legs (then!) were wasted on me, because I was no beauty, whereas my tall, good-looking older sister had legs like nine pins. It all seemed so unfair to the Mother.

    When I was still living in Ireland, I used to share the Irish Times Crosaire over the phone with my late father. I still think of him every day as I work on the National Post cryptic, all these years later.


  8. Hi Tessa:
    I got frustrated on FB too, there is nothing quite like the 'hard' copy of Scrabble and the whole F2F interaction, etc.

    My father's misogyny was legendary.


  9. My favourite is 'Australian no rules' Scrabble. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want to.

    I love the way your smirk shut him up lol. 'His pouting annoyance,' what a poetic line, lovely WWW.


  10. Hull:
    I used to play a similar version with the kids when they were small, keep goin till you die...:^)
    thanks for the compliment!


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