Oh, Hell

My informant told me about a special card game that is unique to her family. This is her explanation of the rules of the game and the context it is played in:

“Okay, so this family tradition is  a card game that we play, and my grandparents brought it to the family. It was my grandmother’s grandma who taught it to her, and then my grandma taught my grandpa, and now it’s a big part of that side of the family. So whenever we get together for family traditions or for weddings—even if it’s not for everybody, even if it’s just my parents getting together with my grandparents—we always play this game. It’s called ‘Oh, Hell’. Everybody starts with ten cards, and you work your way down. The first round is ten, then nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, and you go back up to ten. And so every time you have your cards and there’s a card that’s trump, so that suit is trump, and you bid on how many cards or how many tricks you will take. It’s kind of like you’re bidding on how many you will get, and you want to get that many tricks. But then, sometimes you’ll get too many or too little, and there’s a point system that goes along with that. And we made our own score sheets for it. And it’s very much so a family thing, because it’s not a common card game that many people know of. We have taught other people, but nobody knows it right off the bat. Um, and… yeah. So I just went to wedding in Arkansas for a cousin on my mom’s side of the family, and all our relatives were there, so of course we played ‘Oh, Hell’. And we had—like we always do—we had multiple tables playing the game. And then, I guess we had two tables going, and then the top winners at each table created a winners table, and the losers at each table created a losers table. Um, and it went form there. So we had the big winner, and then the winner of the losers, and all that stuff. So it is a big thing, definitely on just my mom’s side of the family. We don’t play it on my dad’s side; it’s just a [name redacted] family tradition.”

My informant’s description of ‘Oh, Hell’ indicates how important this card game is to her family. It signals to them that they are all members of this family, because the people that immediately know how to play are all related. This is one activity that unites all the relatives, and as my informant said, it is especially meaningful when played at large family reunions or weddings. It brings all of the extended family together. My informant’s relatives live all around the country, so I can see that traditions like this are quite valuable in the way that they unify everyone. My informant is extremely close to her parents and to her brother; she is used to growing up in a very tight-knit family. ‘Oh, Hell’ allows her to grow closer to all of the people she is related to on her mother’s side. It is evident that one of the reasons her family stays so close is because of games like these that they can bond over. Thus, it is evident that one of the many functions of folklore is that it can be used to strengthen family bonds and build connections between relatives.