Are you a Chip off the Old Mah Jongg Block?

Are you a Chip off the Old Mah Jongg Block?

I envy people who can make any of the following statements:
“I play Mah Jongg with my mother”
“I remember as a little kid hearing the clicking of the tiles.”
“The set we’re playing with belonged to my grandmother.”

Whether or not you grew up with your mother and/or grandmother playing Maj, largely depends on where your mother and grandmother grew up.

In the years during and after WWII, Mah Jongg is credited with helping build social networks among Jewish women throughout the United States.

So why didn’t my mother play Mah Jongg? No doubt the game was gaining hold in at least certain parts of Chicago, but in all likelihood bypassed my mother and grandmother. I wish there was an for Mah Jongg because it would answer a lot of questions. When they moved to Los Angeles in the early 1940’s, and for decades beyond, apparently Mah Jongg wasn’t in vogue, at least in my mom’s social circles.

The first time I even heard the term Mah Jongg was as a teenager while reading an Agatha Christie mystery. Some of the characters in the book were playing. I had no idea what it was, but it seemed like a very old and mysterious game–a game I was sure hadn’t been played by anyone I knew.

My mother’s game was Pan. At the height of her pan playing around the mid 1970’s, she was in either 2 or 3 weekly games, and substituted in another. While my mom’s Pan games were certainly weaved into the fabric of our lives, I never quite understood the allure–how much her afternoons of Pan meant to her. I do remember one time she sat me down and taught me the basics. I was probably about 15. I’m pretty sure I never played again, until a few months ago, when some of my Maj buddies needed a fill-in for their Pan game, and voila, 40-plus years later, there I was playing Pan. I felt that I was channeling my mother and that she would be proud of me, as I finally took up the game that was such a big part of her life.

Looking back, I’ll always regret not playing Pan with my mother.
Could it be that while growing up I subconsciously rejected Pan because I considered it ‘my mom’s game?’

My friend Cathy called me a few years back, and asked, “would you have any interest in learning Mah Jongg? I know someone who can teach us.” I said, “sure, why not?” Conversely, was I open to learning Mah Jongg because my mother didn’t play it, therefore no negative connotation was attached?

I’ll never really know the answer, however, once I was hooked on Maj, I so wished that my mom was still around so that I could share my excitement with her. Maybe I could have taught her Maj – she probably would have been a good player. How I wish we could have played together.

Mah Jongg taught me something that I couldn’t have known when I was a kid: most of us really are chips off the old block. When we’re young, many of us reject what our mothers do because it doesn’t seem cool at the time. Even into adulthood, some of us continue to look upon our mother’s activities with disdain.

I credit Mah Jongg with helping me to realize that I really am like my mother, and that’s a good thing! Be it Pan or Mah Jongg, it’s a passion, a pastime, a social network like no other. And if you can share this with your mother, or grandmother, it makes it that much more wonderful.

Since my mom passed away before I learned Maj, I never had the pleasure of sharing the game with her. And since she (and my grandmother) didn’t play, I don’t have any Maj memories of them. But I do know that when I play Maj, my mom is with me in spirit, because Pan was her Maj, and I know she’s happy.

I welcome your comments and any Maj memories you have of your mother or grandmother.


  • Abbey Clark Posted February 22, 2016 11:36 am

    Beautiful sentiments Tracey!! I was lucky to play Maj with my Mom and Grandmother, who used to go to bed studying the new card when it was issued. My Mom and Dad, Aunt & Uncle and Grandma used to all play maj together on weekends — it was a family game!! Fond maj memories!!

  • Jackie Posted February 23, 2016 9:27 am

    My mother and aunts played maj every Friday night while my father and uncles played poker. Every Friday night everyone in my Father’s family met at my grandmother’s home until she died and then at each other’s homes. Kids were always welcome, so 13 first cousins got together each week too. Thanks for stirring up wonderful memories

  • Susan Posted February 23, 2016 10:03 am

    I learned how to play Maj after my Mom passed away too. She had asked me so many times if she could teach me how to play, but at the time, I didn’t know anyone my age that played and I knew she was just looking for another sub for her Saturday night Poker/Maj group. I wasn’t interested in spending my Saturday night with my Mom’s friends playing Maj. The year my Mom passed away, I was taught how to play by the daughters of one of the women in my Mom’s Saturday night group. If there was one thing that I could go back in time and change, I would have let my Mom teach me Maj. I regret everyday never having had a chance to play with her.

  • Judy Scharf Posted February 23, 2016 11:24 pm

    Lucky me…I did get to play mah jongg with my mom during the last few years of her life. When she was 81, she moved from Florida to California to be near me, and she often played with me and my friends. She was a good player and we all loved playing with her. When she moved to an assisted living facility, she played in a game there, and I often dropped in on mah jongg day and either filled in if they needed a player or just hung around and kibbitzed with the players if I wasn’t playing. My mom died in 2000 at age 84. I have her mah jongg set.

  • MRltn Posted February 24, 2016 10:48 pm

    My mom and grandmother never played Maj,but we played games and I loved that growing up. When I retired from teaching I took lessons to learn how to play Maj. I was addicted and wanted to play all the time. It is an enjoyable part of my life.

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