When Dad was alive, he used to play the lottery.
Not every week, and never more than 10 bucks. He had a foil pie plate he kept in the dining room. He’d taken a narrow strip of left over trim from some project somebody started and never finished, sawed it into 49 little squares, and marked a number on each with a black Sharpie. I can still see his handwriting.
Every time you came in the house, you couldn’t leave until you’d pulled a few numbers. None of this machine-generated quick pick nonsense for Dad. We would tell him we didn’t want to choose numbers. We’d tell him to pick his own numbers. Mostly we’d pray for there to be a child around because children love doing this kind of thing. Children, and Dad.
I’d watch him sitting at the table, peering over his glasses as he scratched in the numbers on his sheet. It was odd, really. My father was the last person on earth to do anything by chance, yet here he was getting a chuckle out of trying his luck.
He was not a lucky kind of man, if you discount the fact that he got my mother to marry him and had some awesome daughters. Everything he got was hard fought and harder won, and I’m not sure if he played lottery numbers because he had a belief that his luck was going to change in one fell swoop, or because he could make us all do it with him.
On rare occasions he’d win $10, which meant that like most gamblers, he figured he was breaking even. He’d say he was plowing his “profits” back into the pot, which meant putting the purple tenner in the metal pie sheet full of broken bits of wood back on the dining room table. Mom loved this kind of decoration in her immaculate home.
I got stuck behind a woman in a convenience store the other day who had a system that rivalled NASA’s rocket launch program. I watched her fiddling about for an eon before remembering what a psychic told me decades ago. He said I’d never win the lottery, and it was a relief. It was like when Mom let me quit taking piano lessons. It gave me time to go and be good at some other thing, or at least stop being bad at this one.
When I’m with American friends, the ultimate conversation stopper is never about Canadian politeness or free health care; it’s about the fact that we don’t pay taxes on lottery winnings. They may envy many things, but none so much as a government that doesn’t take a wrecking ball to their powerball.
There was a time – before the psychic – when I thought a lot of money would solve a lot of my problems. Age has put the boots to that silliness; I know now if you can throw money at your problems and make them go away, you are lucky.
The truly heart-wrenching stuff, the things that really matter, take a different kind of currency. I swear that in a parallel universe, they’re playing their own carnival game where my heart is in a glass box and people get three swings for a buck.
I asked Dad once why he mucked about with splintered bits of numbered wood, if he really thought he was going to win the lottery. I’ll never forget what he told me, because it’s as true today as it was when he said it 40 years ago.
“Honey, you were born in Canada. You already won the lottery.”