The conversation ebbed around the flow of the game.
"Scott, it's your turn," I said to my husband. He considered his hand thoughtfully, calculating, no doubt, the risks involved in each possible move he could make.
"This is the point where Nathan would say, 'Fast game's a good game', if he were here," quipped Anna.
"Yeah, fast game's a good game, Scott," I said. He shot me a look and discarded.
"Remember when you used to hide Monopoly money, Matthew?" Anna said.
"What?!!!" I was indignant.
"Yeah," Matt confessed unabashedly, "I used to take the money and hide it under my bed, and then the next time we played, I would pull it out to use."
"Cheater's never win. It's your turn, Liz."
"Except when they do win," Scott put in (always the lawyer).
"And then it's twice the victory. You win because you win, and you win because you didn't get caught," Matthew grinned. He and Scott shared a laugh while us girls squealed in protest. "But that's nothing. Nathan used to want to be the banker when we played Monopoly so that he could slip himself 500's on the sly."
"Yeah," said Anna, "and I hated playing Risk with you and a third player because you would always make an 'alliance' (here she made quotation marks with her fingers) with the other person and I would essentially be playing against someone who had twice the number of armies and countries as I did."
"I hated Risk, too. Did the islanders ever cheat?" I asked Matt. He thought for a moment.
"I don't know ... I don't remember ... "
We played a few more hands, our talk and good-natured ribbing and rememberances creating a warm circle of love around us.
"One time, though, a kid peed on me," Matthew said out of nowhere. The reactions were immediate.
He proceeded to explain with a twinkle in his eye. "We were playing freeze tag on the beach. I crawled underneath one boy's legs, and he peed on me."
Matthew and a friend (NOT the one who peed on him).
"Awww! That's nasty. Where did he get you? I mean, did he get your head?"
"Naw, he had to work a little before it came out, so I was half-way through when he did it. He got my back."
"Good," Anna said, "Because that would have been nasty to feel that on your head and go, 'Hey, what's that?' And turned your face ..."
"EEwwww!!!" The table erupted again.
Matthew said, "You know in freeze tag, how you crawl underneath somebody's legs to unfreeze them ... "
"What an ungrateful kid!" I interjected.
"Yeah, anyways, I think he just thought, 'Hey, I've got him!' and just let loose. That was the last time I played that game."
Our laughter and recollections continued as the cards passed from one to another. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled kindly and its ornaments swayed gently in the breeze created by the ceiling fan. It wasn't important who won the game, or even really who's turn it was to play next. We were completely relaxed. For some magical reason, family tensions had been erased for the moment, and every word and glance was salted with love and acceptance. We sat there and celebrated who we had been together, and began to discover who we were now.