• Jackie Nagtegaal

The Yarborough Year

I grew up with a great dad. He gave me a galaxy of lessons and tips to equip me in the best way he could. A rebel with a brain that beat you seven times around a corner before you finished a sentence. As a lawyer, he had me draw up contracts the second I learnt how to write. Now and therefore, in consideration of the privilege of our bond and the mutual covenants of familial relations ... blah blah. (I’m all for #PlainLanguage). We were lucky, we spent tons of time together, most of which was over a game of bridge—evenings at the dinner table, mornings in the garden, holidays away. The two of us played and played. Honeymoon bridge for two, while the others left us alone. They knew we were gambling, settling scores or negotiating.

“Can I stay out past midnight?” I’d ask.

“If you beat me at bridge,” he’d answer with a Jack Nicholson smile.


Many people don’t play bridge, it’s a game reserved for weird grandma’s. I haven’t played in yonks. But this morning when I woke-up, out of the blue, I sounded the word “yar-bo-rough”. I love the feel of the word in my mouth. Getting ready for work, putting on make-up, looking a little worn, my lips keep rounding the sound. Yar-bo-rough.


The first week back at the office has weighed on me more than I expected. The desolation of an office that was once bustling, Teams-meetings with people who are cooped up in isolation, talk of funerals upon funerals, the constant loom of death hanging over us. Yarborough.


A yarborough in bridge: A hand dealt in bridge where no card is higher than nine. Basically, death in bridge. As much as you don't want this hand, you might get it due to the laws of randomness. Some players try to argue for a rule that they can throw in the hand and declare a misdeal. But sadly, there is no such rule.

“You can’t throw it in, Jackie.” I say to myself driving to the office through a city that looks different, masks bulging from my cubbyhole.


My phone rings, it’s my dad.


We speak about tennis, gardening, business, lockdowns and the random things we both struggle with. I tell him that the word yarborough is glued to my tongue. We recount the games we used to play, and how long it's been. He ends the call with a gem, as usual: “this is not a year to think about what you want, but rather concentrate on the blessings you have."


I smile, and instead of obsessing about throwing in my yarborough year, I start thinking about how I can make it work for me: If winning is not the aim, what else can you get out of the play?


I think of my dad and how he spends hours nursing plants. How he once stole all my brother’s bonsai trees to set them free in his garden, so that they could grow to what they were meant to be. I think of all the moments in between the things we stress about when we play to win, and the simple joy that exists when we simply play to play.


When you get the yarborough hand, do you sit back enjoying the game for its tricks and trumps, knowing there are more rounds to make up for it later? Enjoy the simple act of playing? Or do you throw in the towel and leave the table?

It’s a yarborough year, so I’m going to sit back and ask the players at the table how they’re doing and focus on culture and care, a different kind of win.