Memories of Mah Jongg and Mothers

by Ann Israel

My mother didn’t play Mah Jongg – she was a Canasta aficionada and loved the game. She played every Monday with her group of friends – for years and years – and sometimes on Fridays too.

Now, many years after she is gone, I am carrying on a similar tradition but with a different game. I play Mah Jongg and with my same group every Wednesday (and whenever else I have a chance to play) and have done so for many years.

But what I don’t have is that wonderful memory that has been retold to me by so many Mah Jongg players and/or the children (now adults) of Mah Jongg players.

One of the first things I am told – by men and women alike – when they learn that I am a Mah Jongg player is about their childhood memory of going to sleep at night to the sounds coming from the living room of the clicking of the tiles, the calling out of One Bam, Three Crak, Seven Dot and so on, and the laughing of the players. These memories seem to be so similar from person to person and they are indelible.

I see the fond look of nostalgia in their eyes as they verbally recreate those wonderful memories. How envious I am of their connection to Mah Jongg from the past right up to the present.

It is amazing how many people recount such very similar memories to me. And, as they do, I can’t help but wish that Mah Jongg had been a part of my mother’s life back there in Detroit so that I, too, can feel that connection with the past as I sit down to play an afternoon or evening of Mah Jongg – it must be such a wonderful feeling.

In my mind’s eye, I see the mother getting up after a game and excusing herself for a moment to come into the child’s room and make sure that all was well. And then quickly returning to her position at the table for more hours of game play, friendship, and snacks.

My mother has been gone for so many years now but I still can’t help remembering her at the Canasta table, slapping down cards, laughing, and enjoying the friendship of the other players. Perhaps I need to take up Canasta again to feel the special connection to my mother. But…I am a Mah Jongg player!!!

Now, as Mother’s Day approaches, I think of all of you who inherited their mothers’ and grandmothers’ love of mah Jongg, which you bring to your own game play or those who simply conjure up the childhood memories of those dear women sitting for hours playing the game; I wish I too could have a piece of those very special thoughts. And I hope, more than anything else, that you know how very fortunate you are to have those precious memories. Never let them go.

Perhaps you were even fortunate enough to have learned how to play the game from your mother or grandmother, which allows you to still have a little part of her with you every time you pick up a tile.

To all our mothers, those still with us and those long departed, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day and may the Jokers always be with you.

For more from Ann Israel, check out her blog at

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