My 80-year-old grandmother is demolishing me at Words With Friends. That may sound adorable to you, but to someone as competitive as I am, it’s infuriating and embarrassing.
Here’s the thing. My grandmother raised me and I love her as much as I love my own mom, but there comes a point in your relationship with someone who has clothed and fed and protected and loved you since you were a tiny little child, that you have to say “Enough is enough. I’m taking you down, granny.”
Words With Friends is basically online Scrabble. Some people play on their computers or phones. My 80-year-old Belizean grandmother plays it on her tablet.
Here’s a little backstory. My grandmother — whom I call Chichi (which I believe means grandmother in Mayan, but don’t quote me on that because I’m in no way an expert on the Mayan language or culture) lives in Belize, a beautiful little country in Central America. She is by no means techno-savvy. But she’s been playing Scrabble for years and years.
I can remember as a kid watching her host Scrabble games with friends and neighbors. They sipped tea and ate cookies and played for hours. And I can’t possibly forget her late night Scrabble battles against her brother Gonzalo, which were epic family events. They’d play late into the night, and instead of sweet bedtime stories lulling me to sleep, I’d drift off to expletive-riddled tirades and know that my chichi had once again beaten my great-uncle.
So while she probably doesn’t even know how to set up an email account, she’s got years of Scrabble experience in her corner.
I, on the other hand, never played Scrabble and only recently got into Words With Friends. I play on my phone from time to time, and I have about five or six games going with friends. But then my grandmother calls one day and says she THINKS my aunt has set up a Words With Friends account for her and she BELIEVES my aunt sent me a game request on her behalf and why haven’t I accepted yet.
I inform her that I don’t have a game request from her but I will look up her screen name and I’ll send her a game request. Well she has no clue what her online name is. So of course I have to talk to my aunt and get it figured out because my sweet grandmother wants to play a game of Words With Friends with me.
So we start playing and I quickly realize that this woman who has no idea what the Internet actually is, and who says Faceplace instead of Facebook, is winning. And I don’t mean that I’m letting my octogenarian grandmother beat me. She’s legitimately kicking my butt while sitting in her living room in Belize with a shawl thrown over her legs to keep them warm and with her tablet in her frail hands — a tablet, mind you, being used by a woman who didn’t have electricity or running water as a child.
At first it’s funny and cute. But as the game progresses I realize I am completely outmatched. And for someone who makes a living using words, it’s really embarrassing.
But then I think “you know what? It’s beginner’s luck. She’ll win this game and it’ll lift her spirts.” Well she wins and sends me a thinly veiled boast through the Words With Friends chat feature that says “not bad for an 80-year-old woman,” which I of course interpret as a jab at my skill. So I immediately challenge her to a rematch, which she is only too happy to accept.
Well she beats me again. By a hundred points. And I’m not a terrible Words With Friends player. But she destroys me. And then she sends another chat (which is preposterous in itself because she doesn’t even know how to send a chat) that says “your chichi isn’t too shabby, is she?” So now not only do I have to accept defeat, but she wants me to admit that she did a great job by beating me. She wants me to compliment her.
Of course I do it. I say “yup. That was a great game, Chichi. You really showed me” because, like I said, she has supported me and loved me my entire life. The least I can do is compliment her on her Words With Friends prowess even though it’s killing me on the inside that I can’t beat her.
So now we play a couple games a week. Because I have a job and some semblance of a social life I don’t have time to play all the time. I usually play my turns late at night. Well my grandmother, apparently, is monitoring her games like a hawk and as soon as I play she plays, doubling her score, and then expects me to play my next turn immediately. I think she gets some sick sense of accomplishment by beating me quickly.
It can be after midnight but if I play my turn I know that within a couple minutes my phone will start blinking to tell me that she has played. And if I take too long playing my turn, guess what? She’ll NUDGE me. The game has a “nudge” button that you can use to prompt your opponent to hurry up, in case they’ve forgotten to play. Or in my grandmother’s case, in case I get up and go to the refrigerator for some pickled okra and don’t play my turn within 18 seconds of her playing HER turn.
And just like clockwork, every time she wins she “chats” me one of her thinly veiled jabs, reminding me of her advanced age and seeking my agreement that yes it is quite remarkable that an 80-year-old woman could be beating a 30-something writer so badly.
So she challenges me to a rematch every time. And EVERY time I fall for it, thinking this is the game that I turn it around and trounce her. But it never happens.
So that’s where we stand today. In our current game, she is up 420 to 362 with one letter left. I have a “U.” She has “nudged” me twice today, but I’m holding off on playing that final letter because you know what that means. A win for her and more chat gloating. And every time I die a little on the inside. My grandmother is slowly killing me.
I love her more than she will ever know and appreciate everything she has done for me, which is A LOT. She picked me up every time I fell out of a tree in her yard, and she bought me my first bicycle. But it would feel so good to CRUSH her just once in Words With Friends. Just once.
Severo Avila is features editor at the Rome News-Tribune and won’t rest until he has defeated his 80-year-old grandmother.