Last Friday night I finally made it to the monthly community crokinole party held at the Madoc Township Recreation Centre (and firehall, and council chamber, etc.) near the hamlet of Eldorado. My friend Isabella Shaw, who I believe is the main organizer of this event, had invited Raymond and me several times, and each time we’d had a conflict with something or other. So even though Raymond was in transit between Montreal and Queensborough last Friday and I’d have to attend alone, I was determined to make it.
Isabella’s family was friends with my own back when my siblings and I were growing up here at the Manse. My dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, used to make maple syrup with Isabella’s husband, Cyril, who has been a very well-known local producer for many years. (I wrote about Cyril and Isabella and maple syrup days here.) She is one of the many people around here who have been incredibly welcoming as I return to this place that long ago was, and now is again, my home. And she was especially eager to bring us into the community crokinole event after I posted here about Raymond not knowing (until very recently) what crokinole is. (If you don’t know either, check out that post and read on here. And for still more, check out the amazing site Mr. Crokinole.)
So off I went to Eldorado (it’s only a little more than five miles from Queensborough) last Friday night, despite being pretty tired from a long week at work. And what a time I had! Mainly I came away struck by two things: 1) what a terrible crokinole player I am; and 2) how very nice people were.
Here (for the uninitiated) is what you do at a crokinole party – at least, if it’s a crokinole party in Eldorado. You sit down at one of the tables for four that have been set up, and the person across from you is your partner. You and he or she play with either the black wooden discs or the light-coloured ones. Your mission is to get as many of your team’s discs as possible in high-score positions (close to the centre) even as you knock off the other team’s discs. If they have discs on the board, you have to try to shoot them off. If they don’t, you can try to get your disc into the hole in the centre of the board; at Eldorado they call that a “button,” and it’s worth 20 points. After several rounds the game is over and you add up your scores, and the winning team moves clockwise to the next table, while the losing team stays put but one of the two members moves to a chair to the right or left – so you never play twice with the same partner.
That last rule was a fortunate one for my partners, because I was, not to put too fine a point on it, awful. I started off the evening with a couple of “buttons,” which was most encouraging. But it was all downhill from there; my skills were, I think I can accurately say, rather far below even the beginner level. And they seemed to get worse as the evening went on! (Though I attribute that to the fact that I really was tired from the work week even before the games began.)
But – and I hope it’s all right if I say this, and partners that night, I apologize! – for me the evening really wasn’t about crokinole. It was about being welcomed in to a community event, experiencing something new, meeting some old friends and acquaintances from my childhood here (and trying to remember their names!) and also meeting a bunch of new people. It was about sharing news of local happenings and people, and answering kind questions people had about the Manse project and my family and my late father. Much of this friendly conversation went on during the crokinole games, and since I’m not the world’s greatest multi-tasker, I found myself concentrating more on the conversation than on trying to make good plays. (I was concentrating so hard that, unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of the event. Next time!)
But speaking of good plays: many of the people I played with were extraordinary crokinolers! (Is that a word?) Able to hit two or three of their opponents’ discs with a single shot, strategically using the posts, or pins, that encircle the centre of the board to make brilliant ricochets. To be honest, I would rather have sat back and watched these great players do their thing (and maybe learned something from them) than been trying to make my own pitiful moves.
You might think that these excellent players would have been irked at being stuck with a partner, or even a tablemate, as bad as I was. But you’d be utterly wrong. Every single person was so encouraging and nice. On the rare occasions when I actually managed to knock off an opponent’s disc, they’d cheer me on like it was a totally great play. (It was not, you can be sure.) Isabella had assured me that the event was not about how good a player you are, but about fun and fellowship. And that was exactly what it was.
It was lovely.
And there were prizes at the end! You handed in your scorecard (thank goodness, because I would be embarrassed if I had to show it to you) and the people with the highest scores and – get this! – the lowest scores got to choose a prize. Which means I (holder of the lowest score, naturally) came away a winner! How nice is that? (I got a block of one of the excellent local cheddar cheeses, Ivanhoe. Yum!)
After the games were ended and the card tables folded up and put away, out came the lunch. (Everyone is asked to bring a contribution for it.) There were sandwiches – yes, the delicious church-basement kind that I wrote about here – and wonderful sweets, many of them homemade, and pickles and – of course – cheese. And coffee and tea to wash it down. And we sat around and chatted and I answered more kind questions about my family, and met some more old friends and new people, and was struck all over again at how nice everyone was and what a pleasant and easygoing evening it had been.
I left amid urgings all round (and a promise on my part) to return, with Raymond next time. (The next crokinole party is Friday, April 25, and you are all welcome to come!)
As I walked out of the Eldorado hall into the darkness and quiet of a cold, clear night in the country, I thought about how much evenings like this matter in rural areas. When you live in the country, possibly not even within sight of your nearest neighbour, community events are, I think, more important than they are in the city. A lit-up building full of people, a warm welcome, stories to share and games to play, and a nice lunch at the end of it all – if that’s not a great way to brighten up a cold, dark night, then I don’t know what is.