Mahj was my mother’s game and now it is mine

Mahjong is a centuries-old Chinese game with tiles, usually with four players (and a fifth so players can rotate out and have a break), with the goal of making up hands containing sets and runs. I grew up with my mother playing Mahj every Wednesday. Once every four or five weeks, her weekly game was held at our house, and we were confined to the upstairs from seven o’clock until bedtime. That didn’t stop us from hearing the click of the tiles and their voices calling out the values of the discarded tiles (“One bam.” “Five crack.” “Soap.” “Flower.”). The best part of Mahj night was around 8:30 or so when the ladies took a snack break in which we were allowed to participate. We always tried to persuade my mother to order pizza for break time at our house. That’s also where I learned my appreciation for anchovies and tomatoes on pizzas, something I still enjoy today.

As an adult, my mother always suggested that she teach me, my sister-in-law and my daughters how to play so we could have a regular game of our own. We thought there would always be time for that, and one day she would teach us, but then she took sick and lived out the last four or five years of her life in and out of hospitals and the last three years of her life in the hospital. She passed away nine months ago, and her dream of teaching us never came to fruition.

After she died, I inherited her Mahjong set, and it seemed a shame to let it sit around and continue to collect dust as it had the previous twenty years or so. My sister-in-law and I mentioned this to our cousins and their Majh group, who graciously agreed to teach us how to play. Later, we taught my daughters and began playing semi-regular games, sometimes with my mother’s set.

There’s something about playing the game, especially when we use my mother’s set, that feels as if I am honouring her with every click of a tile and every call of a discarded tile. Playing evokes a warm nostalgia hearkening back to one Wednesday a month in my childhood when my mother and her friends (all of which have now passed) used to play, tinged though it might be with regret that she wasn’t the one to teach us.