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SCOT BELLAVIA: My Family Plays Rummy

I hear families take a week ?to play a full game of Monopoly—if the family doesn’t break apart by Wednesday. My family, however, has been playing Rummy for almost 2.5 centuries if you can believe it, though there are factions.

To keep the family tradition going, we’ve added what now totals 27 rules of our own. After playing for so long, unique scenarios occur that have led us to enact a rule for the next time the cards play out that way. Also, my grandparents, with two generations less of game play in their history, understood Rummy differently than I do just as they had two more generations of play than their grandparents did and so on, but it’s all been Rummy.

Our rulebook is at my great uncle’s house. His name is Ulysses Scot. I’m his namesake because he goes by his middle name. He also has possession of our 27 rule changes, or amendments. We rarely consult these as it can be a judicial ordeal to call up Uncle Scot and have him arbitrate.

The variations of game play between families is usually inconsequential. We go by the rules of the home we’re playing in. So at Aunt Ira’s, an ace is always worth 15 points, no matter whether it’s in your hand or on the table. At Grandma’s, it’s 5 points against you if you’re stuck with one at the end and 15 points whenever it’s to your good. Some houses don’t do negative points, but at my nephew’s he has collected score sheets from every game he’s been in so when I play there, it’ll be a pickup game from the last time everyone present played together.

You’re right to assume our California cousins play Rummy slightly differently than our Alabama cousins and I’ve taught my wife and children to play differently than how I played growing up in my parents’ house.

Despite the diversity in game theory among the Bellavias, we recognize some basic facts that guide play. Everyone knows the difference between a face and number card. Also, we use the same name for each suit. You’d think these basics are irrefutable, but you’re wrong there; I’ve played with some foreign exchange students who don’t read the deck the same way.

But without these basics common to our family, the game would be impossible. People would play cards, deciding right then why they deserve however many points—and isn’t it something that those cheaters put their gain above the rules?

You can imagine how hot sparks fly when those unique scenarios I mentioned arise. None of them fall within the purview of household rules and that’s when we’ll call up my great uncle because someone will remember one of the amendments wrong or so says another player and we’ll have to resolve it to continue play.

For instance, last week, a cousin was catching up with our great uncle and Uncle “Scot” U. S. Bellavia let slip something that inferred he disagreed with a play that’s been allowed for half a century. Its legality is poorly construed (in my opinion) from the 14th rule change we made back in 1868 and it’s been contentious though simultaneously enforced in each household–simply on its merit of being permitted 50 years ago. “Firestorm” sounds dramatic, but is apt for something like this to us Bellavia Rummyists.

Great uncle “Scot” U. S. has since shared with the family something not unlike what he says each time we’ll consult him for something less provocative than what we’re now considering. He said:

“In my time, I’ve seen divorce over a single game. Of course there is some deeper thing going on in their home than cards, but they’ll let a 10 be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Don’t do that . . .

That play that I inadvertently brought up with John Q. last week, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while but didn’t mean to resurrect a debate. But I’m glad it is being reconsidered. The play really affects our game and there are thought-provoking reasons for allowing it, though my preference is to disallow it. Bigger than what we’ve come to expect are the rules of the game. Don’t you know there’s no Rummy without rules? Rules make it work.

Now, as I said, I prefer to ban this play. But above my head is the original rulebook and the amendments generations of Bellavias have agreed to. My son Robert will mail you each copies of the rules. Read through them and see if there’s anything related to this play. Obviously the play itself isn’t mentioned, but what are some principles that could instruct us? I see greater evidence there to disallow the play.”

– Scot Bellavia

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