Play Fair

The Kentucky Derby is right around the corner and on its home stretch, but I lived another  stretch several times in Spokane, Washington.  The stretch started with confession, followed by lying, and ended at a horse track known as (quite ironically) Playfair.

Probably seven years old at the time, I maintained morals and specific values.  However, (forgive me father) I did sin at that pivotal age.  I was willing to tell a lie, but two of my brothers and my father were not satisfied with my less than adequate fib.  Nor was the Catholic Priest.

You see, at this age, I swear, my only sins were lying in the confessional.  The priest asks you to reveal your sins.

Confess your sins, my son.

Is playing wiffle ball in the backyard a sin?

No, but did you intentionally hit anyone in the face with the bat?

Not intentionally.

Who did you “not intentionally” hit with a bat?

A neighbor.

Was he a good Catholic boy like you?

No.  He was a friendly neighborhood Mormon.

Oh, that’s definitely not a sin!

Father, can you just give me another week.  I’ll try my best to do some sinning?

Yes, my son.  Do you have any plans for the weekend?

My dad’s taking us to the race track right after I get out of here.

Ok.  That’s a great start.  I see great and powerful sinning in your future.  You will have much to talk about in our next meeting.

Perfect.  (off to begin my life of sinning) I promise you… next week this conversation won’t be so BORING!

Good.  Go in peace to love and sin for the Lord.

I did indeed go in peace, but, from my standpoint, committed a sin just hours after my dismissal.

Providing our mother a much needed break from some of her children, dad would take us to the race track for the last two races for two reasons:  free admission and he loved gambling on the horses.  (this was to be my first time to attend)  Yet, there was only one reason my two older siblings, ages eleven and thirteen did not want me tagging along.  I was only seven and to be allowed into one of the dirtiest racetracks in the nation, you must be ten.  What terrific standards they set at the track when a boy must be at least the age of ten before witnessing jockeys, trainers, owners and many of the gamblers cheating.  Seven?  “No, wait until you are ten boy before you witness such heathen like behavior.”  Since only seven at the time, I knew this presented a problem collectively for all of us going to the track.  If I can’t get in, no one gets in.  Not my dad, not my brothers and certainly not me.  Bless my wonderful father, because, much to the dismay of my brothers, he wasn’t going to leave me at home, and he was going to teach me a lesson and provide material for my next confessional visit.

Dad said to me, “Ben, I want to take you with us to the track, but by the looks on your brothers’ faces, they don’t want you to be a part of this, because if you don’t learn how to tell a lie, we can’t get in, and I can’t leave you in the car waiting, even though your brothers wouldn’t mind me doing so, understand?”

“I guess, but what do you mean by lying?  Is this like one of those phony fairy tales you weave before bedtime, or is this going to be a mortal sin?”

Patiently, and almost excitedly, dad said, “no, don’t worry about that mortal sin stuff, this is just a white lie, and it will keep you from getting beaten up by your older brothers who are begging me to leave you at home.”

My first chance at sinning, oh boy!  “What do I have to do?”

“Well, you’re seven, right?” (I don’t think he knew any of his children’s ages, but he guessed right)

“Right, dad.”

“All you have to do, when we are walking by the booth, and some swarthy man is asking for your age, just tell him you are ten.  Then, legally, he can allow your entrance.  And, believe me, he doesn’t care.  He just wants our money once we get in.”

Painfully, I had to think about this for just a few short moments, but this was my first negotiated lie.  “Dad, I’ll tell him I’m nine!” According to me, it was my first lie.

My two older brothers looked at dad and me with disgust, hands in the air and eyes rolling, but my loving father quickly extinguished the flames by saying, “hey guys, how about going to Chico’s Pizza for some pinball and at least two pies?”


Food was much more enticing to our family than gambling.  My brothers never laid a finger on me, and I could admit at my next visit to the priest that I was at least willing to tell a lie.

Today, I don’t have to lie about my age, but when asked for age identification, all I have to do is take off my baseball cap.  I don’t like telling people I’m forty.

Have fun watching the Derby.





3 thoughts on “Play Fair

  1. hey ben, was great meeting you and your wife @ Snoqualmie! love your writing! you have a great since of humor! that’s a must for me, in my daily living! ( I love to laugh!)maybe someday our paths will cross again? its always great to meet good people! if you guys ever go out to emerald downs, ill buy you a beer! keep up the writing, its great! take care 😉 jacque’

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