When my mother died a few years ago, I asked for her mah jong set. No one else cared; no one else wanted it. I was probably the only one who had any real memories of it in action. In our childhood neighborhood, and at aunts’ and uncles’ houses in the Bronx and Queens there were weekly games.
Bubbly hair that was so full of hairspray it could withstand tornado, nuclear blast or the annual wedding dress sale at Filene’s. The cat’s eye glasses that is so central to the 1970s vintage look that then was merely in its infancy.
Four folding chairs, unfolded and set around a card table taken from the hall closet. No tablecover that I remember, but four different colored tile racks, the top for showing your play and the tilted one (like Scrabble) that no one could see what still remained in your hand.
I didn’t know how to play. I still don’t,but when I was a kid, I thought I did. I’d move the tiles around. My mother’s set has jewel toned racks, and I brought out the green one to display on top of the case – it is very much like a briefcase with two latches on the side that keep it closed, but doesn’t require a key to open. The rest of the set is housed inside the case.
I keep it on the bottom of my barrister bookcase. That’s one of those bookcases with a glass front so you can see what’s inside. It fits perfectly on that bottom display.
Whenever I look at it I think about the card table and the food we weren’t allowed to touch. We were sent outside with the other kids.
I don’t remember if everyone shared one set to play on, but everyone had their own set. Maybe the host provided the playing set.
Even now, I can hear the clattering of the tiles on the racks. They look like marble but from their weight, I’d guess that they’re not.
I can hear the bam, and the dot, and the joker and dragon.
Wine flowed, crudite crunched, and tiles clattered while we kids ran around outside, and then through the living room being chastised and sent once again on our way and our of our parents’ ways.