Several years ago a good friend moved back to town and invited me to learn to play mahj with her group. These mavens probably had 100 years of experience among them and they truly were excellent teachers. As I evolved from “seat-filler” to “newbie” player, I wanted to share my new hobby with other friends. When I had the confidence, I became part of my first group; it evolved from a playgroup formed in 1987. Two of us taught the other two and soon we had a regular game. For the past six years we have been playing together every other week. It’s funny how our eight kids are graduating high school and college, getting jobs, moving away…and we can still talk, laugh, cry and nosh for hours. We even manage to fit in a few games of mah jongg!
Before long, more friends wanted to learn the game. Enter my late mother-in-law, Lenore Moss. She had played as a young mother of four; my husband Jerry remembers seeing the mysterious green box and hearing the words “crack” and “bam.” In fact, she became a great teacher to many. She helped more of my friends learn and they became the core of my second regular group, also meeting every other week. Last spring I was co-chair of a mahj tournament and we offered lessons in the months before the event. She was there to help the 20-plus women (and men!) who wanted to participate; everyone told me what a kind and patient instructor she was.
Lenore graciously lent me her grandmother’s set (circa the 1920s, I am guessing) with the unspoken understanding that she would get to play with it, and my new mahj friends, once in a while. When I could find two players willing to schlep to University Heights, I would try to offer her a monthly mahj date to put on the calendar — this quiet and reserved woman’s eyes lit up and she always replied with a most enthusiastic “yes!” My father-in-law, Art, shared his personal stash of the best dark chocolate-covered almonds, along with fresh popcorn and pretzels, for our snacks. And there was always, always orange crystal-lite to drink. I am happy to say that mah jongg brought us much closer to each other and gave her a bit of a social life. She listened to us gab away and was most amused by our stories, only occasionally commenting over the rim of her glasses! The last time we played was on Nov. 22; she passed away, peacefully in her sleep, on the 30th. My sister-in-law and nieces have learned the game, too, so when I suggested burying her with her 2011 mahj card and an empty orange crystal-lite container, there was a tearful nod of agreement. The mahj set is now mine to keep, filled with old, yellowed tiles and wonderful memories of friendly competition, laughter, a bit of gambling and a remarkable woman.
- Julie A. Moss