Canasta was Aunt Rene’s game of choice. Don’t tell my mother, but when I spent the night with Aunt Rene, we’d stay up till 10 o’clock playing canasta at her kitchen table. When I married The Engineer, we pulled up another chair to the table and asked him to join us. We stayed married, but it was embarrassing watching him play canasta. He may know how to build magnificent buildings, and he may know how to jack a house up to fix the foundation and he may know how to construct roads and bridges, but he sucks at playing canasta.

He just never quite got the hang of the game . . . or at least how Aunt Rene and I played the game. Every now and then, for example, Aunt Rene needed a few more cards, so she’d pick up the discard pile and proceed to make good use of it. The Engineer somehow got the idea that it was okay for him to do the same, so he’d pick up the discard pile and commence to melding and adding cards to his hand. Before he got far enough to mix up the cards, Aunt Rene would look over the top of her glasses and inform him, “That’s not allowed.”

“But you just did it,” he said.

“No I didn’t,” Aunt Rene said with the best poker face you ever saw.

“Yes you did,” The Engineer argued, clearly baffled.

“Put the cards back down,” she’d tell him. “We don’t like cheaters.”

At his first Hewell Family Christmas party, The Engineer gave Aunt Rene a book called How to Win at Canasta Without Cheating. Aunt Rene opened the package, saw the title of the book, and without missing a beat passed it right back to The Engineer saying, “I don’t need this, you do.” If amortized, that book was the cheapest Christmas present ever because it just went back and forth between The Engineer and Aunt Rene every year till she died.

Book or no, we never, ever invited The Engineer to our canasta game ever again. He was just too darn much trouble. You had to watch him every minute.