“Get a new one out,” my grandmother—I call her Oma—screams in her thick Dutch accent and slaps the side of my wife Jen’s head. Jen drops her marble and it bounces on the kitchen floor before it rolls beneath my seat. “I’m sorry,” Oma says. She stands behind a seated Jen and her Asiatic eyes barely clear the top of Jen’s head. She pats Jen on the back. “I just get so excited.”
I almost tell Jen, “Welcome to the family. You haven’t been indoctrinated until Oma slaps you while you play Wahoo.” But I think better of it and give her a wink. I hand Jen her missing marble, and she almost puts it back in her starting area. She flinches, expecting Oma to hit her again, and then heeds Oma’s advice and places her marble on the board’s track.
Jen rolls another six and picks up the marble she just placed on the board, but she gets slapped again before she can move it. “No. Kill him!” Oma points to another one of Jen’s marbles that’s farther down the board.
“You don’t have to help her,” I say. “She’s played Sorry and other games like Wahoo. She knows what she’s doing.”
“You’re only saying that because that’s one of your pieces, Kyle,” Oma says. She waddles around the table and stands behind me. “Maybe I should help you.”
My grin turns to a grimace, but Oma’s threat is short-lived. On the next turn, my cousin Corey doesn’t make the best move. Oma slaps the table and yells no, no, no.
We spend the rest of the game watching Oma—an Indonesian woman at least half the size of anyone else at the table—more than the game itself. She helicopters around everyone, shouting out the best plays and usually remembering that she shouldn’t slap people.
Jen was shocked when Oma first hit her. She had to have thought what did I marry into and what kind of demon seed grows in me, but after a few rounds, she joins the laughter, making sure she ducks every time Oma passes her chair. And we love Oma for that. She can turn a board game into a spectator sport, and she wasn’t going to let a new family member stop her from being herself.
That’s something I love about tabletop games too. You can try to hide who you are for a while, but eventually, your true personality shines through. Sure, you might not be as open or as much of a fiery ball of energy like Oma, but games can reveal the way you think, the way you problem solve, and the way you read situations.
I’m sure Oma’s still in Port Arthur, Texas slapping tables—I hope she still is—and my Aunt Sjonneke gave us a homemade Wahoo board for Christmas last year. My kids still slap the table and yell at each other to get a new one out.