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Dad wins big money in Reno

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POSTED January 14, 2014 1:28 a.m.

My father and my grandmother had a special relationship.

Maybe it was because he was the baby of the family – his brother is 10 years older than him and his sister isn’t too far off of that mark. Maybe it’s because he was always ready to drop everything and jam up to Redding to fix a clogged garbage disposal or faulty water heater.

Maybe it’s just because “David’s a good boy.”

Whatever the reasoning, they spent a lot of time together. And that meant that she and I and my sister spent a lot of time together. Her house, to this day, feels like a second home to me.

It wasn’t a foreign place, going to Grandma’s house. It was cozy and warm and inviting, even if the lady that inevitably made you try on the most hideous shirt possible that she found from her time volunteering at a Catholic thrift store barked orders from time-to-time.

Fast-forward to Saturday night. I’m sitting in a movie theater and I get a phone call from my mother. Something told me that I needed to step outside and call her back. So naturally, I texted. The response got me up out of my chair so fast that I nearly flipped over the row in front of me.

My father had just won a lot of money at a casino in Reno. A lot of money.

Now, on the surface this story alone is impressive. Here’s this hard-working guy that takes his daughter up to Reno to spend the weekend together and he gets lucky and hits the jackpot. The number isn’t relevant, but let us just say that it’s the amount that can make problems go away. That alone is enough to make you stand up and take notice.

But like any good story, there are multiple underlying arcs. For starters, this particular casino – the Grand Sierra Resort – was the destination that he and my grandmother used to visit on a regular basis. It’s out of the way of Downtown Reno, and it’s a sprawling sign of the good times that once befit “The Biggest Little City in the World” – a casino that was the largest on Planet Earth when it was built with a dull golden exterior that still manages to glimmer in the sunlight after all of these years.

My grandmother was the slot-machine whisperer. Somehow she had the magic touch when it came to machines, and they always rewarded her handsomely.

Dad – not so much. He enjoyed the thrill of it all; the high that came when those dials would line-up and the bonus games would kick-in. My father doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. But he loved to take his mother to the casino, and together they shared a common love for the old-fashioned game of chance.

A weekend at my grandmother’s house, once I turned 21, always consisted of the same thing.

We’d arrive, my dad would fix something that was ostensibly broken, we’d go shopping at Costco and the “Canned Food Store” and likely end up at the Chinese buffet that she loved oh so very much. Water only though – no sodas. Sodas were too expensive.

Then we’d go to the Indian casino – Winn River – where this 90-plus year old woman would inevitably hand you a $100 bill and then proceed to go about her merry way.

And she’d always win.

It was a standing joke that if the money we gambled away ourselves helped pay for flashy new additions and burgeoning hotels, she made sure that the floor stayed covered in carpet instead of pure marble tiles.

She passed away this last year. Healthy as a horse until three weeks before she went into the hospital. Didn’t suffer one bit. And one of the few things that she asked for when she realized that her stay would be longer than an overnighter was her handheld video poker machine.

There’s some significance there. It was on a Reno trip that my grandmother won $1,200 at a video poker machine. And nothing made my dad happier than when he saw the smile on that woman’s face when she won money. He saw it a lot.

He was in bed that night before she was, and was awoken to the sound and smell of crisp, fresh $100 bills being fanned under her nose. She hit the same $1,200 hand just hours later. That’s the kind of luck that woman had. It was an amazing thing to watch.

Her death hit Dad hard. He said he’d never be able to go to the Indian casino in Redding where they had spent so much time, even though we spent the night before her funeral trying to win some sort of memorial jackpot that would have made her giggle with excitement.

Walking out of the casino Sunday morning, however, he got his chance. He took the check that the casino cut and waved it back-and-forth in the air.

“Here you go Mom,” he said to himself. “Smell this.”

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