Commentary by Ward Degler
I have never been much of a card player. My wife and her family, on the other hand, will launch a card game at the drop of a hat. Euchre, mostly, although Jeanne has been part of a bridge club from time to time.
For some reason I never got the card bug. My dad taught me to play cribbage at an early age. As a forester working with lumberjacks in the north woods of Wisconsin, Dad spent many long evenings playing the game. I still play occasionally.
During the long, lonely winters I spent on the farm in Minnesota, the local folks preserved their sanity by playing euchre. I joined in but never got hooked.
From time to time Jeanne and I will play gin. It’s fun, but mostly because it’s something I can do with my wife. When we were kids, my sister and I used to play war, a mindless and savage game that contributes more to the destruction of a deck of cards than to any intellectual pursuit.
Even so, I have long been fascinated by the jack in a deck of cards. Jacks have a colorful history. Aces are always either the highest or lowest card, and kings and queens have always been well, kings and queens.
But the jack has been playing his own game for generations. He was always the lowest face card, but he was first known in the 16th century as Thani-naib, or second deputy.
In Italy and Spain, he was depicted as an infantry page. In France, he was a valet, and in England he was the knave, or servant, to the queen.
The title knave caught on, and his card was marked with a K. Then in 1864 an American card-maker by the name of Samuel Hart recognized the potential confusion K caused with the king, and changed the knave to jack.
Among American card players the jack stands for no one in particular. In France, however, the jack of spades represents Ogier the Dane, a knight in Charlemagne’s army. The jack of hearts is La Hire, a famous warrior. The jack of diamonds represents Hector, a character in Homer’s Illiad, and the jack of clubs stands for the fabled Lancelot.
Then, there is the artwork. In one of our decks, the jacks of clubs and diamonds face forward while the jacks of hearts and spades face to the side and are known as one-eyed jacks. The queens all face forward, but the king of diamonds is one-eyed.
To add confusion, jacks are always subservient to the king and queen. Unless, of course, you are playing euchre, cribbage, all fours, hearts or pinochle. Another reason I don’t play cards.