Tag Archives: mah jong

Sometimes Rainy Days Were the Best Days In the Catskills

17 Sep

There is something special about a rainy day.

Perhaps it is my memories of summer time respites. On rainy days we were not expected to run around outside, we could stay in and read a book. I still love reading a book on a rainy day! It brings me such joy.

My friend and I were diehard Nancy Drew readers one summer. I remember wonderful rainy day afternoons lying on her bed near the window with our Nancy Drew books. We wanted to read every single one! I think we got close to accomplishing our goal.

Other days we worked on art projects. She wanted to be a dress designer and was always making paper doll dresses. Designing her own special dresses to fit the paper dolls we had. Hundreds of dresses were produced on the kitchen table during summer rains. And yes, she did study fashion design in college!

But for me the love was reading. I love murder mysteries and I am sure that this love started on those rainy summer days. I loved when our fathers came up on the weekends, especially if they brought along another yellowed-spine Nancy Drew book. However, I was not that picky, I read my brother’s Hardy Boy mystery books as well.

On those miserably cold rainy days that occurred in the 1960s in the Catskills, my grandfather would bake. That was a joy. The smell of fresh bread and cookies in the house was wonderful. He had an entire bakery shop set up in his basement, the remains of his bakery, which he had sold in the early 1960s. The giant mixer, the pans, the cooling shelves were all there. We would help him braid challah and shape cookies. Then we would run up and down the stairs with the pans for my Grandma and Mom to put into the oven. Sometimes we had three ovens going: in the house, in the bungalow and in the apartment where my friend stayed. It was a great rainy day event, especially since we knew we were going to have treats to eat!

My Mom did not always like rainy days, especially if there were clothes hanging on the line. We had no dryer then!   When the rain started we often ran as fast as we could to get the items off the line and hang them around the bungalow. This was especially important in summers when there was a lot of rain. We sometimes would run out of dry clothing.

One summer we actually did run out of clothes. I remember my Mom telling my brother to stay out of the lake! My brother was known for ‘falling’ in the lake. (Although one of my cousins admits helping my brother ‘fall in’ a few times.) Well you can imagine what happened. He was in the lake with his last dry pants. I do not really remember what happened. But I think he had to stay in the bungalow for a day or two in pajamas!

It was on rainy days that I learned to knit and crochet. I would sit with my Mom and Grandmas and all the other women knitting away in someone’s bungalow while having tea. While they knit sweaters, I and the other younger ‘girls’ had easier projects to work on. Those sweaters lasted forever. There are still some in the family.

Mahjong, gin rummy and canasta were important rainy day events for the Moms and Grandmas. While we played our board games, sitting on the floor; they played their games at the kitchen table. As soon as my sister and I were old enough, we were introduced to the importance of Mahjong.

It is true that on sunny days we were outside riding our bicycles, swimming, picking blueberries, running around, playing on the swings, and just having adventures. But sometimes a rainy day was really the best day in the Catskills. It gave us a chance to recharge and relax. Actually, I guess every day in the Catskills was truly the best day ever.

Love of Mah Jong started in the Catskills

14 Jan

One rainy summer day in Kauneonga Lake, my Mom pulled out her mah jong set.  It was the start of my love of the game.  Soon my grandmother came over.  And for hours, my Grandma, Mom, sister and I played maj.  I remember it as if it was yesterday.

I don’t know exactly how old I was, but probably about 12 since my sister had to be old enough to play.

I just know that we sat in the kitchen of the bungalow, with tea and cookies, and played.  In the beginning it was slow, because they were teaching us. But by the afternoon, my sister and I began to play with more assurance, making the games quicker.

That summer we played every time it rained.  I almost looked forward to bad weather.  Almost, because compared to the allure of the lake and outdoor activities, mah jong was second.  But being together with my Mom and Grandma and sister, playing mah jong was just so much fun.

I was excited because my Mom played every week with a group of friends.  Each week they played at a different home.  When they played in our home, even though we were not supposed to disturb them, as I got older, I was allowed to watch for a bit.

Now I understood the game.  Now my Mom, my Grandma, my sister and I had our own activity; something just for us to do when the weather was dreary.


Those memories remain.  And each time I play mah jong, a little bit of me thinks back to those days.  I now use my Grandma’s mah jong set, while my sister has my mother’s set.

I enjoy mah jong so much I tried to spread the joy by organizing a special mah jong program through a local organization. We brought in the curator of a Mah Jong exhibit at the Battery Park Museum in New York City. As a way to advertise it, we played mah jong on the radio!


People listened to the lecture and slide show, ate Chinese food, played mah jong, and examined sets that others had brought to share.  An important part of this museum exhibit was people playing Mah jong in the Catskills. They even had a photo of people playing in a pool!

I play in two groups.  One group I have been playing with for 13 years.  We started because we live in the same neighborhood and wanted to get out a bit.  We meet once a month to play this game that has been passed down from our mothers.  All of us have sets that belonged to our mothers, grandmothers or aunts.  I actually also have my mother-in-law’s set.

When we started playing our children were in still in elementary, middle and high school.  Now the youngest are still in college. But the older ones are working and living away from home.  We are empty nesters. 

When we come together we share memories.  We have helped each other though emotional upheavals: death of a parent, children moving far away, a spouse’s retirement.  We listen to stories about vacations, jobs, volunteer work.  We have been to each other’s children’s bar/bat mitzvahs, high school graduation parties.  We are waiting for the weddings to begin.

We planned special events. Like the time we all had our mothers in town over Easter, and decided to play.  Moms played at one table, daughters at the other.  Two generations enjoying the same game while laughing, snacking and sharing a memory.  Sometimes we go out for lunch, or celebrate a birthday.

Mah Jong is so much more than a game for me.  I often say it is the game I love to hate and hate to love.  But in reality, it is a game that brings back so many memories.   And teaching it to my daughter meant so much.  When she was in eighth grade I actually volunteered to teach a group at her school for students who wanted to learn.  Once a week the students played for an hour, while I and several other moms taught.  It was wonderful.  In fact my second mah jong group includes another mom who taught with me.

Although my daughter does not play now, I hope that one day she will remember fondly playing with my Mom and me.  And I hope, that just hearing the click of the tiles brings back moments of joy.

In the meantime, I promised one of my cousins that I would teach her to play mah jong.  This summer I hope we will finally have a cousins’ game in the only place possible for us to play: Kauneonga Lake, Bethel Township, Sullivan County, New York.