It’s fun to dig through old possessions containing still older possessions — shoe boxes, plastic tubs, photo albums, and other stashes — and discover treasure troves of unrecorded history and lost secrets. Objects that would’ve evoked nostalgic memories if only you’d exhumed them sooner eventually turn meaningless when removed from their once-contemporary context and forgotten by their original buyers or creators.
Some families are more assiduous in their note-taking practices and and fully dedicated in passing on their stories to future generations. Other families have piles of letters and images filled with mementos of strangers they’ll never know, occasions no one can recall, anecdotes never to be retold, and feelings the descendants will never share.
Sometimes such surprises are sprung on you from the unlikeliest hiding places. This past Saturday night we found one inside an old board game.
Once upon a time, Pictionary was all the rage back in the mid-’80s, when folks gathered ’round their gaming tables of choice and engaged in the tricky art of playing charades on paper. For anyone with measurable drawing skills, it was an easier challenge than having to mime various nouns, verbs, names, phrases, and stuff. For those who didn’t know which end of the pencil was up…well, their abstract chicken scratches were a fun excuse to laugh at other people without causing them grave emotional damage. Usually.
The game wasn’t invented until after I was a teenager and all my friends had moved away, but someone (probably my mom) gifted me a Pictionary set years after its prime. I occasionally found other humans for opponents, but not often.
I have a slightly fonder memory of the TV game show later based on it. I taped one episode that featured two guest stars from the world of comics — Mell Lazarus, creator of the comic strip Broom Hilda; and up-‘n’-coming late-’80s comics star Chris Bachalo, known today for such titles as Shade the Changing Man, Generation X, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Watching them compete was fun, but not quite as fun as playing it myself with others.
Pictionary came down from the closet a handful of times after my son was born and grew of reasonable age — old enough to recognize most of the terms he was tasked to sketch, though the “Difficult” category frequently frustrated him and required compromises. We rarely revisited it, but we also rarely get rid of board games. It’s remained in the game closet nonetheless, patiently awaiting its next turn alongside others we don’t play anymore such as Payday, chess, a Lord of the Rings version of Risk, or four different Monopoly sets.
For our most recent family game night, special quasi-quarantined cabin-fever edition, Pictionary came down from the top shelf for the first time in years. We thought it would make a nice change of pace. All of us are capable with a pencil to varying extents, some better than others. My artistic prime was over thirty years ago, back when I was taking high school art classes and making my own comics that will never see the light of day…but I can still recreate shapes that slightly resemble their intended subjects if I’m allowed to concentrate and am not being taunted by trickling sands inside a stupid hourglass.
When we dusted off the box and opened it, the contents included dozens of pages used in games from past eras. They could’ve been from the last time I played with my wife and my son, or from my first marriage, or from blood relatives when I still lived at home. I have no idea who else I’ve played with over the years. Apparently none of those encounters ever bored or annoyed me enough to hand off the game to Goodwill.
Among those drawings, we found one oddly elaborate sketch that stood out from the rest.
We looked at each other and wondered who drew this. No one claimed credit.
It obviously wasn’t done within the usual one-minute time limit. I haven’t done pencil shadings to this depth in an extremely long time, and I don’t believe they’ve ever been part of Anne’s repertoire. That’s also not my kind of stick figure up there. I’d recognize my own stick figures. They were my thing for a while after falling in love with the works of Matt Feazell. That one’s too off-model to be mine.
My son has drawn both for fun and for funds within the past several years, but any works with this much rendering on paper, he tends to hide away like a squirrel rather than let us have them. I have a few aunts who can draw, including art teachers who did freelance jobs on the side for decades until their respective retirements years ago. I don’t remember playing Pictionary with any of them.
I’m pretty sure the drawing didn’t come with the game. Someone I know drew this. I have no idea who. The artist may well take their secret identity to their grave. Assuming they haven’t already. I wouldn’t know.
For that matter, I also have no idea what this was supposed to be. Forest? Trees? Tree climbing? The Black Forest? Sherwood Forest? Mirkwood? Pat Benatar’s “Shadows of the Night”? The world may never know.
We may discard some of the scratchier, more unrecognizable bits of accidental Cubism, but I feel like we should keep this one in the box as a permanent mystery — an atmospheric souvenir of someone’s discarded whim, crafted on the fly just because they could. Talent freely demonstrated. A gift casually left behind.
As for the gameplay itself, a fun time was had by in all, even though I didn’t win. We had to reconfigure the rules a bit for just three players, a bit too awkward for dividing into teams, but we figured it out. We also agreed on one additional rule change that might make our next round even livelier…if any of us can remember it by the time Pictionary’s next turn comes around.