Play Stuff Blog

Michigan in New York  

Mary Valentine
The Strong Museum Trustee

When I was a kid, Sundays were my favorite day of the week, because my dad was home (he worked Monday through Saturday) and we got to play the card game Michigan.

Photograph, about 1955. The Strong, Rochester, New York. Growing up in a small town in New York State's Hudson Valley, we didn't have a lot of money for toys and games. My brother and I would amuse ourselves with playing dodge ball in front of our house on Lafayette Avenue or dragging our sleds across the street where a neighbor's yard gently sloped just enough to give us a good ride down the hill. But there was one game I yearned to play.

I could just peek over the top of the dining room table where my family, including aunts and uncles (my mother was one of seven children), would gather after enjoying one of our Sunday dinners (usually an inexpensive cut of meat prepared with vegetables in a black iron kettle). My dad was a butcher, so he would bring home the discarded meat and bones from the Mohican Market, and my parents would make something out of nothing. When I was about seven years old, my family thought I was old enough to play the game I’d been longing for—Michigan. I already knew how to play, of course, by watching from my perch on tiptoes, and now I finally had a chance to participate.

Now there are many variations of this popular rummy card game, but the Michigan version we played consisted of a combination drawn from the book Hoyle's Rules of Games and a collective assortment of rules contributed by those playing the game... in other words, made up.

Without going into all the details of playing Michigan, suffice it to say that I was most intrigued and excited that I could win pennies, which I brought from my meager allowance and used as chips, by either getting rid of all my cards ("going out") at the end of each hand or by getting to play a money card that I might have been lucky enough to be dealt. I felt so grown up!

I know that my early game playing taught me some valuable life lessons, and not just about games (although I married a man who ultimately owned a game store, but that's another story). It taught me patience, the importance of socialization, how to learn to budget my money, and how to save up for something I really wanted. And it taught me how to make something out of nothing, perhaps the most valuable lesson of all.  Thanks mom and dad. And thanks to you, Michigan.