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Hands Across the Table

by David Westheimer


My wife Dodys older sister, Cissy, who passed away three years ago at 82, was a bridge Life Master. If her husband hadnt sprained his ankle in Mexico in 1948, she probably wouldnt have known a ruff from a revoke.

Its a long story, going back even further than 1948. All the way back to 1943, when I learned how to play bridge myself. When prisoners of war were moved from Italy by the Germans, my pilot lost his bridge partner. In German camps we were separated by nationalities, and his bridge partner was Canadian. In Germany he decided to train me as his partner. He taught me the rules, but there is one thing you cant be taught if you don't already have it, and thats card sense. I didnt have it. So he trained another partner.

But I enjoyed playing bridge, and there wasnt a whole lot else to do nights in a POW camp. Or mornings and afternoons, either, for that matter. For the rest of my sequestered days I played bridge, partnered either by a roommate of mine, who played as badly as I, or a fighter pilot from that famous all-black P51 group that flew cover for all-white bomber crews, and who played even worse. He became an upper-bracket executive for a major national distilling firm, by the way.

When I came home and got married, I taught Dody how to play bridge. She thought I was pretty good. We played regularly with friends and never for money. (I was a better judge of my skills than Dody was.) It didnt take her too long to get better than I was, as just about everyone Ive played with did except my two partners in the German camp.

After a while she had to admit that I was never going to come up to her level and gave up on me just as my pilot had (only as a bridge partner, mind you; were been married 57 years now) and found other partners, female (who were also better players than I was). She played bridge often in the afternoons, and sometimes her sister, who didnt play the game, looked after our son the agent, then of tender years. But I am getting ahead of my story.

When we went to Mexico with my wifes sister and her husband in 1948, we were still bridge partners. We drove, intending to spend a few days in Saltillo, which in those days was inexpensive and un-touristy, and may still be for all I know. We started out from Houston late and reached our first stop, Monterrey, in the small hours. We had to settle for one large room with two large beds.

On the way to Saltillo the next day, we took a side trip to Horsetail Falls. The last part of the tour had to be accomplished by burro. The burros were about the size of German shepherds. My wifes sisters husband, accustomed to riding horses, threw up a leg to mount his steed and tripped over the animal. We got a large laugh out of that. Until we discovered hed suffered a painful ankle sprain.

He gritted his teeth all the way to Saltillo. As soon as we checked into our hotel, (I think it was the Arispe-Sainz) we got the proprietor to call a doctor. The doctor was a youngish man with a mischievous smile and obviously very competent. However, he could speak no English. My wife knew some Spanish but her vocabulary did not cover conversations with a doctor in doctor language. The doctor bound my wifes sisters husbands ankle tightly, somehow conveyed the information that he was not to favor the ankle too much but to move around, gave him something for pain and instructed him to come to his office in a day or so. (When we got back home, my wifes sisters husbands own doctor told him that having a patient move around on a sprained ankle was the latest technique.)

There we were in Saltillo with my wifes sisters husband confined to his room (walking the streets of Saltillo was a bit too much moving around). Naturally we stayed in a lot, too, which grew boring even though my wifes sister and her husband and I were all old friends from even before I married my wife. My wife said, Lets play bridge. And my wifes sister said, You know I dont know how to play bridge. My wife said, Well teach you. My wifes sister was doubtful, but being in a foreign town with a husband with a sprained ankle weakened her resistance.

So, sitting in a hotel room in Saltillo, Mexico, my wifes sister learned to play bridge. We played bridge in the morning. We played bridge in the afternoon. We played bridge in the evening. I was glad when we left. My wifes sister kept playing bridge after we got home, just socially at first and then in dead earnest. She achieved her Life Master and played regularly for many years, big-league stuff.

My wife and I? We havent played bridge, together or separately, in more than 50 years.


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