In my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, I decided to use a game board to reveal some of the clues that would guide Valeria with her task back in the time of the Black Death. It wasn’t a hard choice, no, really there was no decision to make! It would be Monopoly, classic Monopoly.
I was introduced to Monopoly at a tender age, really not even quite old enough to play it, but I loved it, with all the fake money, little green houses and red hotels, the deed cards with lots of words on them, and… the tokens. “The Token,” was my original working title for “Valeria & The Enemy of Time.” As the book progressed, I realized that I wanted the title to reflect more what the book was about, rather than the mysterious token that appears. So I dropped that title, leaving it only as an artifact on my earlier drafts.
Our babysitter’s son was the older brother we never had. He took us on adventures. I’ll never forget when he took us, three young sisters and a little brother, on a wilderness hike up the flank of the foothills behind our house. I have a snapshot in my brain of us coming back a couple of hours later, trudging up the gravel road, past our place, alongside the pasture. The whole time I can see his mother standing at the end of the road by their house, hands on her hips, with a “spanking implement” of some kind in her hand. Our steps got slower… and slower. She diverted him while we went into the house. He hadn’t gotten permission, apparently.
We played Tom Sawyer, poling around in a flooded cow pasture on a shed door, being warned about water snakes, the “most poisonous kind there are.” I’ll bet he never anticipated what would happen when I saw a potato peeling floating around with some tossed garbage. (Think; kids screaming “water snake!” tipping the raft, pandemonium abounding.) We read his Tarzan comic books, picked off tomato worms and executed them, and helped fill the utility sink with frog eggs, which annoyed his mother. Of course we had a club. And a club house, which was an unused animal shed. We tried to dig a tunnel under the wall, but it was slow going. My sister could barely wriggle through it. It didn’t look like a secret escape tunnel should. But the primary activity of the club was Monopoly.
We played a few times at the kitchen table with other members of his family. That was when I picked my token, the same token I would use every time I ever played the game. The iron. When I was a kid, playing Monopoly was like how a youngster would visit Disneyland without a grown-up leading the tour. Instead of a choreographed plan to take the best advantage of the day, Kids would just walk around riding things and enjoying the experience. If they didn’t know the rules of the park, they would just make some up and go merrily along. That’s how I played the game, buying the properties with the pretty colors, randomly putting houses on and trying to figure how to charge the rent for them. We always did the non-official, oft-played rule of tossing the fines collected into “Free Parking,” to be won by players who landed there. Once, we tried putting everything there, property sales and everything, but the bank ran out of money. Then the leaders of the club decided the Monopoly set should be stored in the clubhouse, seeing as how playing it was the club’s primary mission.
One day, the club abandoned its primary mission. The goats got into the clubhouse and ate up all the money.
One of my favorite presents of all time came that Christmas, my own Monopoly game. I still have it, and even though it is worn and the money is soft from age and heavy use, everything is still there, even my old iron.