Wednesday, May 22, 2024

It had been three years since my grandpa had been given his final blessings by Father Burke. At eighty-seven years of age, he’d lived a full life, and people were saying things like, “There’ll never be another Benny Piekanski,” and, “It’ll be the biggest funeral ever in Poke Hollow, Pennsylvania.” But this is all background stuff. The real issue was that since Grandpa wouldn’t be around anymore, I figured it would be OK to sell the deck of Philadelphia Phillies 1977 playing cards that commemorated the time the Phillies won the World Series. Grandpa had given the cards to me seven years ago, when I was only eight years old.

I remember his words; “Watch over this deck, Adam, and pass it on when the time comes.” OK. You can interpret this a couple of different ways. Did Grandpa mean to pass the cards on to my grandkids when I was ready to move on? Or did he mean to get rid of the cards when his time came? And was it OK to sell the cards? At the time, I had an urgent need for some cash, so I opted to believe that he meant that it was OK for me to sell the cards when it was time for him to move on to greener pastures.

Either way, it didn’t matter. Grandpa didn’t pass on, and he was coming to town for the first time since his brush with the afterlife. This was great. I hadn’t seen Grandpa for a long time, and I was really looking forward to his visit. But it did create a real dilemma. You see, I’d sold the Phillies deck to Harvey Sweeney at The Last Chance Pawn Shop for ten bucks and had to think of a way of getting the cards back.

My first thoughts were that at ninety years of age, there was the possibility that Grandpa would have forgotten about the cards. Fat chance. Grandpa needed a walker to get around, but he could still recite the Gettysburg Address backwards, and he still did the books for Piekanski’s Furniture Store, a company he’d founded back in the thirties in Reading, Pennsylvania, sixty miles to the south of Poke Hollow.

Now, ordinarily, you could get on e-bay and buy a regular deck of Phillies commemorative cards for around $5. But this particular deck had played a significant part in my grandpa’s life. And whatever the cost, I had to get the cards back before he arrived.

Perhaps a little bit of background is in Togel Singapore order. I don’t remember the exact year. It was long before I was born. Maybe twenty years ago. Anyway, I was told there was this World Series of Poker champion, Tony Severino, who had a sister living in Poke Hollow, and he was coming to visit her. No big deal. Except to my grandpa. You see, Grandpa had been an amateur poker player for most of his life. Putting up ten grand to play in the big one would have been chicken feed for him, but he was too tight to even travel to Las Vegas.

So, everyone was totally surprised when Grandpa showed up in Poke Hollow the day before Severino arrived to visit his sister and announced to anyone who would listen that he was going to challenge Severino to a winner-take-all hold’em marathon, played under the same guidelines as at the World Series of Poker. Each of them would put up $10,000.

Word spread quickly. There hadn’t been this much excitement in Poke Hollow since 1946, I was told, when the green monster, a giant steam shovel, was pulled down State Street on its way to the green fields behind Poke Hollow, to start a strip coal mining operation.

Needless to say, Severino saw a quick ten grand coming his way and was happy to oblige Grandpa. The match would be played in the backroom of Swab’s Billiard Parlor on Nesbitt Street, across the street from where I now lived. The single pool table at Swab’s was moved for the first time since Joe Swab had opened back in the forties, and chairs were set up to accommodate at least 75 excited onlookers, each of whom paid $5 to Mr. Swab just to watch the match.

The cards were in the air at noon on Saturday, and it went on until 2 A.M. Sunday, when Grandpa, tiring quickly, but to everyone’s surprise holding a small lead over Severino, called a $2,000 bet with pocket deuces. The flop came Ace, deuce, six rainbow. Severino pushed all his chips into the middle, and of course, Grandpa, wanting to get the match over with one way or the other, called immediately. With a huge smile on his face, Severino turned over pocket aces. Grandpa needed a deuce on the turn or the river, else his dream of beating a world champion would be all but gone. The turn was a five, but, miracle of all miracles, the case deuce was turned on the river by Mr. Swab, who had dealt the entire match, and Grandpa pulled his artificial right hip out of place as he bolted out of his chair with a big “YAHOO!”

As it happened, Tony Severino, in addition to being a world class poker player, was an orthopedic surgeon, and managed to comfort Grandpa and stabilize his hip until the ambulance arrived. Through all his pain, Grandpa had the presence of mind to keep the final deck of Philly playing cards that had been used in the match. Which, of course, is the deck he passed on to me.

Such was the excitement about the match in Poke Hollow that the town council voted to commemorate the event with an annual picnic at St. John’s Park, with bingo games, roulette wheels, and an introductory hold’em tournament to go along with a wide array of Polish foods.

But this is all history. Since Grandpa’s unexpected recovery and his upcoming visit, I was sure he would have me get out the Philly commemorative deck, we’d play a little hold’em, and Grandpa would relive the match with Severino for the umpteenth time.

So now I had two problems. The first of which was that I didn’t have the deck. I’d talked to old man Sweeney about getting the cards back. He wanted $20 cash, which led to my second problem. I was broke. I tried to bargain with him to loan me the deck for a few days, but whatever other problems Sweeney had, he was an astute businessman. He knew I would find a way to buy the deck back from him. I couldn’t go to my parents and ask them to buy the deck of cards for me. They didn’t even know that I’d sold the cards, and I wasn’t about to put up with two weeks of lectures on being responsible for my actions.

So, I had to go to plan B. This involved my two favorite uncles, Mom’s brother, Al, and Dad’s brother, Mike. They didn’t like each other even a little bit. And since I was the only nephew, they competed for my attention. Naturally, I’d learned to use this to my advantage.

Anyway, I called Uncle Al, who was the softer of the two uncles, and in strict confidence, told him about my problem. Of course, to win my favor, Uncle Al wouldn’t tell a soul. For good measure, I told him that I’d thought about calling Uncle Mike, but really felt that he would understand my problem better. That sealed the deal.

We met at with Mr. Sweeney’s at the Last Chance Pawn Shop at exactly 9 AM on Saturday morning. I already knew the Sweeney wouldn’t take less than $20 for the deck; and I knew that to impress me, Uncle Al wouldn’t pay near that much. So it seemed like a useless meeting, but I had other ideas. Sweeney had an apprehensive look on his face when he saw me come in with Uncle Al.

“Mr. Sweeney, this is my Uncle Al. He’s going to buy the Philly commemmorative deck.”

Sweeney didn’t blink an eye. “$20” he said.

“Can I see the deck, Mr. Sweeney?”

Sweeney reached behind the counter for the deck and handed it to Uncle Al.

Uncle Al examined it and said, “This deck is used…can’t be worth more than ten bucks. “$20. Take it or leave it.”

Uncle Al took out his check book and said, “Here’s my check for $10, Mr. Sweeney. You can cash it anytime before noon tomorrow and we’ll be by to pick up the deck.”

Before Sweeney could respond, I held my finger to my lips to silence him.

With that, we left the shop. Uncle Al assured me that Sweeney would relent, and the deck would be mine by tomorrow night. It would be our secret. I gave Uncle Al a wink and we shook hands as he departed.

Uncle Mike was a little different than Uncle Al. He really didn’t want to go to The Last Chance Pawn Shop with me. “Beneath his dignity”, he had said. “Never buy anything second hand.” So I told him, maybe Uncle Mike would do it. Well, that was all it took.

At 1 PM we met at the pawn shop with Mr. Sweeney’s. Sweeney’s look was more bewildered than apprehensive when I introduced him to my Uncle Mike.

“I understand you hoodwinked my nephew out of a deck of cards a while back,” Uncle Mike said. Well, that wasn’t the right think to say.

“$30,” Sweeney said. “Take it or leave it.”

Needless to say, it didn’t go well from there. After bickering for a good ten minutes to no avail, Uncle Mike quickly scribbled out a check for $12.50, gave Sweeney the same kind of ultimatum that Uncle Al had, and left the shop, uttering obscenities under his breath.

His last words to me were, “Not a word of this to that other uncle of yours!” I waived good bye to Uncle Mike and loitered behind.

I watched from the door as Uncle Mike drove away, and then turned to Mr. Sweeney. “I’ll take the cards and $2.50, I told him.”

I don’t think I’d ever seen Mr. Sweeney smile before. Maybe it wasn’t really a smile. Probably just a look of admiration. Without hesitation, e handed the cards to me along with $2.50 that he took from the cash register.


I went to the card shop next to Sweeney’s and spent the $2.50 on thank you cards to Uncle Al and Uncle Mike. I wish I could tell Grandpa what I’d done. He’d be proud of me, too.