J is for Jumble

My father was always an orderly man.

His ties were hung neatly on tie racks in his closet, his business affairs neatly filed in folders, his expenses written in neat columns in ledgers. His photographs are labeled, his stamp and coin collections catalogued.

One of the evidences of my mother’s dementia was her setting the table for an army of guests. Non-existent guests. I would get frustrated with it because it meant that I had to put away all the china and silver that she had gotten out. Someone suggested to my sister that we could use the table setting as a bellwether for how she was doing mentally.

For a while, she set the table properly — fork on one side, knife and spoon on the other, dinner plate in the middle. Then one day, it was set like this —
It made no sense.

And I knew that my mother had lost a bit more of herself.

My father’s indicator has been the Daily Jumble.

For years he zipped through it within minutes of sitting down for breakfast. Then it started taking a little longer. Then one day, he wrote the word TOTATO in the answer space.

“Totato” would make perfect sense if he had been reading Andrew Peterson’s  On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. But it’s not a real word, at least not for Daily Jumble purposes. (Correct answer: TATTOO)

My sister and I laughed about it because, truthfully, when we had solved the jumble, we had both seen TOTATO before we saw TATTOO.

Of late, though, my father usually only solves two or three of the words. Occasionally all four. Sometimes with spelling mistakes.

He wrote PICKEL the other day.

Sometimes he makes up words. Like LORAY. When I told him that wasn’t a word, he responded, “Well, it should be!” (Correct answer: ROYAL)

Sometimes he just gets things mixed up.

He sorts through loose change, putting the coins into neat piles, but five quarters in a pile, not four.

And he sorts through pictures, throwing away photographs of people he can’t remember.

His neat and tidy orderliness has become a sieve through which bits and pieces of his life slip every day.

Word jumbles are just a part of it.

Small World

Bud found a piece of paper covered with words on the coffee table this morning. “What’s this?” he asked.

“Word Battle?” Mary guessed.

Yes, Word Battle.

I am addicted to play a game called Word Battle. Here’s what I like about it:

  • It’s fast. A game is completed in less than 5 minutes.
  • It’s challenging. You can have anywhere from 9 – 13 letters with which to make a word.
  • It’s a community.

A fellow player posted this picture this morning.

She captioned it: For all my WB friends.

She lives in England — and there are quite a few British players.

But the circle of players is the circumference of the earth.

The best players seem to be from the Philippines and India. I asked another player once why that was.

He said, “Because we learn our native language before English.  But because we actually ‘learn’ English, we spell and write better than the native speakers!”

The more I play, the more I feel like I “know” the other players — well, as best anyone can know someone they will never meet in person and only chat with in short spurts while waiting for games or during games.

I know that one player is the process of publishing a book, another is applying to Brown, and another is confined to a wheelchair and has a therapy dog.

One player’s daughter died recently, at the age of 30. I watched the word spread through the other players. I think I was not alone in whispering a prayer for her in her grief.

We discuss the virtues of coffee and tea, as well as rum, vodka, and other drinks. The political discussions can get hairy — but I know far more world politics than I would have known otherwise.

In fact, that’s some of what was on the paper — Hindi phrases and politicians’ names.

Yes, sometimes they chat in Hindi — and it irks me not to know what’s being said. So I write it down and look it up.

I wrote “Feku” down the other day, thinking it was a who, but when I asked another player, she laughed.

“It’s Indian slang,” she said.

Then I worried that it was inappropriate, and asked her that.

“No, it’s a politician who lies,” she responded.

Ha — so that’s a worldwide problem.

The other day, all the players played the word COGIES while I came up with some insignificant, less point word. I’ve seen COGIES played, but it’s not a word I ever use, so I don’t usually think of it.

“What’s a cogie?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but I’ve seen it played lots of times,” one player responded.

“Never ask a woman her age, or a Scrabble player the meaning of a word,” another answered.

For the record, a cogie is a small bowl.

A pandit and a pundit are essentially the same thing.

Ecce is directly from the Latin — means, “Behold.”

And, in this crazy world, where virtual and real mix together in a jumble of letters, Word Battle can mean friends.