I'm not an expert card player. I will admit that up front. I'm no Diamond Jim Brady. I'm no Brett Maverick. I'm no Sundance Kid.

Heck, I'm not even my mother, who could play all four hands in a game of Canasta simultaneously.

She perfected this art when I was a teenager and she was waiting up for me to come home from dates. I considered it an honor to participate in the development of Mom's card-playing talents, so I gave her lots of lonely late-night practice.


But this much I do know: when you sit down to play a game with cards, it is almost always best to have all the cards in the deck.

Which is why I threw out two decks the other night.

"Are you sure you want to do that?" Anita asked as I dropped the incomplete decks into the garbage bag.

"They're both short several cards," I said, my voice edged with frustration. "From now on our cards are off-limits to anyone younger than 55."

Anita chuckled. "Well, that would eliminate me," she said.

I hesitated, and considered my options.

"OK, we'll make it 50," I said. "But if any more cards turn up missing I'll know where to start looking."

Anita cleared a few more paper plates from the table.

"We had a lot of people here tonight," she said, "and most of them were playing cards. The missing cards could be anywhere."

"I know what you mean," I said. "I'll bet Mike stuffed a few up his sleeve."

"That's not what I'm saying," Anita continued. "I just think somebody misplaced them or something. They'll probably turn up tomorrow."

"Or not," I said. "And then when we go to play cards again I'll get stuck with the short deck. In fact, I probably wasn't playing with a full deck tonight. That's why we lost."

"Honey, you haven't been playing with a full deck for years," Anita said, smiling sweetly. "It's part of your charm."

I wasn't exactly sure what she meant by that, so I just cinched up the garbage bag — partial decks included — and took it outside.

The next morning we went to my sister's house for breakfast along with many of the card sharks from the previous night's party.

I was right in the middle of a ham and cheese omelet when my teenage nephew, Jake, pulled something out of his pocket.

It was a handful of cards.

"I found these in my pocket," he said. "I'm not sure how they got there. Honest. I wasn't cheating or anything."

Everybody laughed at Jake, who was blushing at the implications of the hidden cards. Anita was laughing, too — only she wasn't looking at Jake.

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To her credit, she didn't say anything. She didn't have to.

We've talked about it often enough during the 35 years that we've been married. Although there is a time and a place for quick decisions and impulsive action, often the solutions to our problems will eventually present themselves if given enough time.

We just have to be patient. Or as Kenny Rogers said: "You've got to know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em."

And know when to throw them away.

To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.

email: jwalker@desnews.com