D-O-N-K-E-Y by Dave Schanding

D-O-N-K-E-Y is a card game for three or more players. There are clothes pins in the middle of the table—one less pin than the number of players. Each player is dealt four cards. The object is to get a four-card pair, then grab a clothes pin. Once one person grabs a clothes pin, everyone else is entitled to grab one. The player that doesn’t grab a pin gets a letter.

In Hamilton!OH folks hung out their worsh (Chicago translation: wash) to dry, and everyone had clothes lines in their back yards and a basket of clothes pins to pin the wet clothes up. On rainy days and late evenings, our family sometimes played DONKEY, borrowing some of mom’s clothes pins. With a family of six kids, we could usually muster up at least four kids and one parent to play. There was strategy, of course. Greg was quiet and quick of hand. Margie distracted everyone by talking constantly, oftentimes bringing up real or imagined embarrassing stories to unnerve. Jane was quiet and moved a little slower than the rest, so sometimes a clothes pin would be nudged her way. Chris was wiry and also quick of hand. Little Kath was the youngest and shortest, and, since she couldn’t reach the middle of the table, she also was the recipient of frequent nudged clothes pins. Dad and Mom had enough years’ experience with card games to provide for a strong advantage. I probably played it the straightest—no real strategy other than to look for a four-card pair.

After the dealer distributes four cards to each player, he or she begins looking at cards in the remaining deck. Discards go to the next player, who examines these cards against the ones in his hand. Each round continues until someone manages to get a four-card pair and picks up a clothes pin. Then a mad scramble takes place, with the final player getting no clothes pin and gaining a letter. The first time you don’t get a clothes pin, you get a “D”. Second time is an “O”. You get the idea.

Greg and Chris were quick-handed enough that sometimes they’d grab a clothes pin, then continue passing cards along. A game might go a minute or two before someone realized that a clothes pin was missing from the middle. Then the mad scramble would begin. Sometimes one of us would grab for a clothes pin and not have a pair. This fake grab might draw others into grabbing one for themselves. While this stopped play, I don’t recall anyone being penalized for grabbing a clothes pin when no actual pair was present, but we had fun fooling one another.

The deal rotates, so each person gets first-shot at looking for pairs. Sometimes someone will notice that the threes or queens are passing by, alerting a player down the line to consider collecting them. According to rules, a person should never have more than five cards in their hand, and should discard one before picking up another in the rotation. As a practical matter, as time passed, players would grab a small handful of cards. The downside of having a mitt-full of cards is that it’s harder to free up a hand to grab a clothes pin.

Aunt Julia was one of those persons that always lets the child win. She was known to announce, “I have four fives.” Everyone, except her, would grab a clothes pin. We kids generally didn’t like this strategy. While we liked the adults giving us breaks, we wanted the game to be competitive.

One might think that it would take hours for all participants but one to get DONKEY. Here, the second phase of the game begins. Once a person is a DONKEY, his or her task is to get the other players to talk with him.

Margie could annoy as she never shut up. Chris was more cunning and would ask the player next to him if they were saving, say, sixes. If the person responded, they became an instant DONKEY. We rarely got mom or dad to talk—I guess they had too many years’ of card playing experience. It didn’t seem to take long for all but one to become DONKEYs, either by clothes pins or by talking to a DONKEY.

After I married and began a family, I introduced the game to our children, and the first thing I had to do was acquaint them with clothes pins. We always use a clothes dryer and have never had a clothes line in our back yard. Even in recent years, when I have returned home visiting Hamilton, we now-adult children have been known to dig out the clothes pins and play like old times. Margie still talks too much. Greg and Chris still laugh quietly and grab a clothes pin when no one is looking. Little Kath is 52 years old but still gets help from some older brother or sister.  And I don’t think Dad has ever become a DONKEY from not grabbing clothes pins. Ah, the simple pleasures obtained from a deck of cards and a pile of clothes pins. I wonder if my smart phone has an ‘app’ for that.

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