Every day I play cribbage with my dead grandpa.
He passed away in 2009, not long after I graduated from college, and he had been a major figure in my life, particularly during the summers I spent at his house as teenager, helping to chop down trees and shadowing him on home-repair tasks. Ostensibly I was around to more ably do things he could not — climb on the roof to paint the siding, for example — but more often than not he’d lumber up beside me anyway.
Last month I came across an iPhone game called Cribbage With Grandpas. It was created in Vancouver by two indie developers, Leanne Roed and Justin Smith, and is a fairly straightforward mobile version of the classic card game. It costs $3. First, you make a grandpa, and so I made mine, thumbing through options of ears so I made sure his were droopy, picking a bushy white mustache and a long chin. You can select his shirt (I went with his trademark Stewart plaid) and an animated environment that makes sense — mine is a porch, overlooking a gravel path and some woods, just like the one at his house. If I put on my headphones, birds are peacefully chirping.
We never played cribbage when he was alive, or any games really. He did like to water ski, though, and later in life to drive the boat while I did — there’s a fountain over his right shoulder, where he sits in the game, and that reminds me close enough. And so a few times a day I play cards against him. Cribbage is easy to learn, and the games usually last just a few minutes. One counterintuitively nice thing about this digital version is that it doesn’t automatically score the cards in your hand, so you have to pay enough attention to add up the points yourself. But I zone out anyway, passively fixating on the little details of my grandpa’s animation. Sometimes his ears wiggle, like his once did. Sometimes he falls asleep and I have to tap to wake him up.