Mr. Morgan was a retired Episcopal priest who lived a few houses up from my family on East 9th Street in my hometown of Bonham, Texas. He and his wife, Anna, must have been in their 70’s when I was young. They both had white hair, and they walked with the stoop that comes with advanced age.
Mr. Morgan had an office on one end of his house with a private entrance. When I was five or six, I often visited him there and when I arrived, he’d open a large closet where he had several games stored. He would allow me to pick which game I wanted, and then he and I would proceed to play either checkers or chess or my very favorite: pick up sticks.
For the game of pick up sticks, we’d settle on the floor of the office. I don’t remember any difficulty Mr. Morgan had sitting on the floor though now I can imagine it was a good deal more difficult for him that for me. Once we were situated on the rug, Mr. Morgan would put the pile of brightly colored sticks on their ends. In anticipation, I would wait for the moment when he released them and they fell in a tangled jumble on the floor. The object of the game was to carefully remove one stick at a time without disturbing any of the other sticks. Mr. Morgan and I spent lots of time carefully teasing out those red, blue and yellow sticks from the pile, each taking our turn when the other caused a slight wiggle. I remember his hand, liver-spotted and pale white, deftly manipulating those little sticks. He might have been old, but his hand was completely steady and he was a formidable opponent. Sometimes I won; sometimes he won. I appreciated that Mr. Morgan never “let” me win. He was a real opponent.
While he and I were playing whatever game I had chosen for that day, Mrs. Morgan would always come in at some point and say hello. Then she would disappear for a few minutes, only to reappear with a plate of cookies and lemonade. Mr. Morgan and I would continue to play while we munched on the cookies. We were serious about our games so we didn’t stop just to eat.
I had fun playing games with Mr. Morgan. I looked forward to my impromptu visits, and from his smile I knew he was happy to see me. He was always dressed in a suit when I visited, no matter if it was morning or afternoon, and Mrs. Morgan always had on a dress, never slacks or even a skirt. They were good and proper people, I knew even at my young age, and very decent indeed.
I would announce at home that I was going over to play with Mr. Morgan and my parents would just smile and say, “Have fun.”
I did and he did and we did and even now I think of that nice old man sitting in his office with its roll-top desk, walls covered with filled-to-the-brim bookshelves, that closet with its shelf of games, and the floor where he and I sat and carefully and strategically dislodged stick after stick during our pick up sticks game. This remains one of the loveliest images I have of my childhood: an old man, a young girl and an afternoon with nothing more to do than to sit on the floor and play a game. What could be more perfect than that? Or more special?