In recent years, the most coveted object of desire on the husband's side of the family has been a trophy featuring a donkey standing on a base inscribed with the word Scrabble.
Scrabble Donkey's rear end is in the air with his back legs shaking like a nervous Chihuahua that has been lapping up Red Bull.
When the husband's side of the family gets together, they unbutton their collars, throw their solar-powered calculators into a dark corner, cast aside their Wall Street Journals, and morph into wild things that can turn the sedate game of Scrabble into a full-body contact sport.
Our family gladly accepts the challenge of turning a board game into a loud and frenzied competition, although we are more likely to be wearing fuzzy house slippers and casting aside Field and Stream before engaging in play.
Several years ago, when we began Scrabble tournaments with brackets and personal assistants who gave neck massages during intense turns of play I thought we should up the ante with a real trophy.
I bought the trophy. I engraved the trophy. I cooked the holiday meals that draw the family together to play for the trophy, yet I did not win the trophy. I know now why the Little Red Hen was such a crabby old bird.
In a near victory last Thanksgiving, I was positioned to win, poised to play all of my remaining tiles when my daughter, my own flesh and blood, eyed the spot I had staked out on the board.
"Don't take it," I warned. "I am the woman who brought you into this world."
"Is that a t-h-r-e-a-t?" she asked, fingering her tiles.
"I am going to hook on to that S, play all seven of my tiles and make the word grandmas," I say. "You've not given me any grandchildren, the least you can do is give me the pleasure of making this word, winning the game, and finally getting that trophy."
She took the spot.
"I hope you draw the Q and never get a U," I snapped.
At the close of a tournament, Scrabble Donkey is handed over to the winner in an official ceremony that is riddled with acrimony, a bitter farewell speech, allegations of cheating, theatrical pouting and forced sullenness. It is everything the people at the big televised award shows would like to do, but don't.
Scrabble Donkey has made several trips to Chicago and has even been to Rome. When the son and his wife took a trip to Italy last year, they took Scrabble Donkey along and photographed him at the Colosseum. They also must have let him go a round with the lions, as Scrabble Donkey returned home unable to kick as well as he once did.
My big break came when I received a Scrabble calendar complete with the listing of 111 acceptable two-tile words: aa, ae, ag, ut, qi, xi, wo, za, hm and nu. I can't use them in a sentence, but I can play them on the board. Scrabble Donkey is now where he rightly belongs, here in our home, the envy of our children, loved ones and extended family.
Scrabble Donkey, a mere 5 inches in height, is certainly not the first thing you see on the bookshelf when you walk into the room, which is exactly why I moved him to the coffee table.