Life Lessons from Bret Maverick — and My Father

Life Lessons from Bret Maverick — and My Father

Real life never seems as clever as the world of motion pictures and television. Fictional characters always look better and speak with more eloquence than the people in our daily lives. As a child of the television generation, I often lamented that my life wasn’t as colorful as that of the characters I saw on the TV screen — not just in regard to the big, exciting occurrences but, as well, the small, charming moments I saw on TV and in the movies.

I remember being particularly captivated by the witticisms of Bret Maverick, as portrayed by James Garner in the ABC television series that ran from 1957 to 1962. Garner’s character would toss off homespun aphorisms he had learned from his father, Beauregard “Pappy” Maverick. They would always begin, “As my Pappy used to say…” and then include some pithy bit of wisdom about playing poker or whatever — although the messages always seemed to have a larger meaning.

“As my Pappy used to say, ‘Never hold a kicker and never draw to an inside straight’,” Maverick would say. Or, “Never play in a rigged game, unless you rig it yourself.” And so on.

As a young boy, I wondered why my father didn’t utter clever bits of wisdom like this to guide me through my life’s journey. Years later I realized that, perhaps unintentionally, he did.

I have a clear recollection of one particular evening as a young boy playing Scrabble with my parents. (Yes, believe it or not, in the olden days families would occasionally get together to play board games like Scrabble.)

My Scrabble skills were less than stellar. When holding a Scrabble tile with a high point value, such as a Z (10 points), I would contemplate how to extract the maximum value from the piece. I was reluctant use the tile in a simple play like “zoo” (12 points) or even “fez” (15 points). If only I could get the tile on a premium square, it would be worth so much more. If I could just play the Z on a double-letter square, “fez” would give me 25 points. If I could play “fez” on a triple-word square, I would attain a whopping 45 points.

If I had another move — even with fewer points — I would sometimes hold the high-value tile for the chance of getting more points in a later move.

This strategy, of course, seldom worked as intended. I’d eventually play the tile making the same or, often, fewer points than the earlier move would have accomplished. Or, worse yet, I’d get stuck holding the tile at the end of the game when its value would be deducted from my final score. (Oh, the bitter irony!)

At the end of one such game, I explained to my dad that I had been saving the tile in the hope of making a killer play. He casually suggested, “Always make your best move.” Don’t save a valuable tile for later. Make the play now and move on.

My father didn’t intend this to be a life lesson. He meant it merely as a basic strategy for playing Scrabble. Yet, for some reason, I’ve never forgotten this comment. I think of it often in situations that have nothing to do with Scrabble: “Always make your best move.”

And, thanks to Bret Maverick, I also never draw to an inside straight.

The image from “Maverick” is from a copyrighted television program, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the studio which produced the program and possibly also by the actor appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the program and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

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