We Might Always Be “Newbies”

My grandmother, “Nana Ray,” died more than 20 years ago but recently I found a new connection with her. My mom, Sandy Stern, and I learned how to play mahj about a year ago. My mom recalls her mother, Nana Ray, playing mahj with her friends way back in the ‘50s! We even have her mahj set. It was missing a few tiles, but I ordered replacement tiles online, and now we have a complete set! I never saw Nana Ray play mahj, but I can picture her sifting through the tiles with her perfectly manicured fingernails, holding a cork-tipped Belair cigarette in one hand, and munching on snacks with the other hand, all at the same time!


My mom and I learned to play at Fairmount Temple, in preparation for a fundraiser tournament to benefit the library.  During our mahj lessons, we had a great time trying to figure out: what is that bird? (a “one bam”), and tell me again – what dragon goes with what suit? (“soap” goes with “bubbles”…I mean “dots”)! We are still trying to learn the card, and by the time we do, we fear that the new one will be issued.


At the Fairmount Temple tournament, there were several tables of us “newbies.” My mom and I were seated with two other newbies, who were also playing just for fun. The tournament chair announced over the microphone that we should all start the first game. Tiles were flying skillfully at the tables of the veteran players. Our tiles did not move quite as quickly. We were just getting through the passing, when the chair announced, “OK, ladies, you should be finished with your first game.” Our newbie table howled with laughter, gaining a few dirty looks from the veterans. We just continued to play our game at our own pace!!


Over the recent months, my mom and I have played mahj back at Fairmount Temple, in my kitchen, at Heinen’s, and at other various places. I think my mom and I are – and maybe will always be – “newbies”! But we have a lot of fun playing together, spending time together and – oh yes – munching on snacks at the same time! Somewhere hovering between us, Nana Ray says, “Crack! Bam!”


–  Susan Ringel