My mother's sister is my aunt--20 points; my autn's neice is me--30 points; but then again, she could be my sister or my cousin, and my grandmother's cousin is my . . . what?
Weaving through the genealogy of who begat whom on the family tree has become a new card game called "Family Treedition," created by Mildred Austin Smith, an active community volunteer and former opera singer from Northwest. Last year, she was Shiloh Baptist Church's Woman of the Year.
Smith said she designed the game as a "way to get back in touch with the family," and as an inexpensive form of family entertainment.
She invented the game while bedridden with multiple sclerosis, a time when she could do little more than lie there and think, she said. MS is a slowly progressive disease of the nervous system that leads to loss of muscle control and coordination. Symptoms flair up and disappear unpredictably. Smith has had the disease for nearly 20 years and often uses a motorized cart to move about her house.
The object of the genealogy game is to earn points by placing on a board three cards from your hand that represent a correct relationship between blood relatives. For example, "my father's first cousin is my second cousin."
The deck's 64 cards represent everyone from great-grandmother to third cousin. Of course, there are a few wild cards, to get you out of tight spots. The figures on the cards have what Smith calls Egyptian-like, angular features. These, she said, are universal faces.
Smith said she started working on the game in 1975, "even before Roots came on television." It seemed simple, she said, until she realized there are hundreds of possible combinations of relatives.
Smith, who will say only that she is in her "early 60s," has demonstrated the game before many groups, including handicapped children, senior citizens and inmates at Lorton Reformatory. Even adults are surprised to see how little they know about family relations, she said.
Smith obtained a patent on "Family Treedition" two years ago. She paid a printer to produce 100 copies of the game last October and has sold them all, many as Christmas gifts. Another 500 copies are on the way for $14.95 each. The game can be purchased from Smith, or through Stanley 5 & 10 Cent Stores in Brookland.
Smith said that inventing has been her favorite pastime. She said she unwittingly gave away an idea for a cigarette-pack unwrapping technique that also extracted the first cigarette. One tobacco company tried out the process for a short time, she said.
Multiple sclerosis put an end to Smith's colorful singing career. In the mid-1930s when she was attending Dunbar High School, Smith joined her brother and one of her sisters in a trio called "Perry and His Sisters." "We were among the first blacks to sing on the radio," she said. The first time the trio went to WOL radio station to perform, they were told they had to ride the freight elevator up to the studio, she recalled.
On Smith's dining room wall hangs an old poster of the National Negro Opera Company's performance of "Faust." The 1952 advertisement sports a stunning picture of Smith with long, shining black hair. The performance was held at Griffith Stadium, now the site of Howard University Hospital, and grandstand tickets cost $1.25.
For 26 years, Smith was the director of the former Taber Presbyterian Church Choir. She taught piano and voice to many Washingtonians, and in 1961 founded a women's singing group called "The Lyrics."
Despite her handicap, Smith is still teaching. She tutors elementary school children through a program at Shiloh Baptist Church and is a crusader for independence for handicapped individuals. Besides planning to have "Family Treedition" translated into other languages, Smith said, "I'm eventually going to have it put into braille." She plans to continue distributing the game herself and wants to hire other handicapped people to help demonstrate it.
Even though her new game is doing well, Smith says, she is not ready to retire. She also wants to start a company to promote and market her games.
"I have a few more in mind," she said.