by Joey Pipia
Well, it's true, you just need to know where to look. Read this, and you'll learn how a deck of cards can be your almanac and Bible. What you are about the read is an old story. How old? No one knows for sure, and no one's certain the origin despite some early references. “The Deck of Cards,” as this story is formally known, even has it's own, “Wikipedia” entry.
This is an original version of that classic story, “The Deck of Cards”.
A young family dropped their son at Sunday school, and went to attend church next door. The Sunday school teacher smiled at the boy as he got there and he played with others as they arrived. When the teacher finished her bible study lesson, the boy took out a deck of playing cards.
“You shouldn't be playing right now,” said the teacher.
“I'm not playing,” said the boy.
"Sure looks like it to me,” said the teacher.
“This is my almanac,” said the boy holding the deck of cards before him, adding, “There are 52 cards, one for each of the fifty-two weeks in a year. Four suits, same as the four seasons, and if you count the pips (those are the spots on all the cards) there are 365, one for every day in the year.”
“That's great!” said the teacher.
It's what the boy said next that gave her pause.
“It's also my Bible.”
Later, and while the parents were at the after-service coffee hour, the teacher brought the boy next door to the church. She explained to the minister about the almanac, the deck of cards, and the Bible.
“Well,” said the minister, “can you explain?”
The boy took the deck out of the box, laid the cards on the floor, and pointed as he spoke.
“Look” said the boy, “the ace reminds me that there is one God; the two, the old and new testaments; the three, the holy trinity; the four, the authors of the holy gospel; the five, the five wise virgins who were ordered to trim their lamps. The six and seven? God created heaven and earth in six days and then rested on the seventh. The eight, I think of the eight righteous persons God saved when He destroyed this earth. The nine, the nine lepers cleansed by our Savior (there were ten, but only one returned to offer his tribute of thanks). The ten? The ten commandments, of course! Oh, yes, the king and queen, Jesus and Mary.”
The minister checked his Bible during the boy's answer.
“You've listed all the cards but the jack,” said the Minister.
“Ah, of course, the jack - also known as the knave – this reminds me of the devil, and to avoid temptation,” said the boy picking up the cards.
“See you next Sunday!” smiled the minister as he flipped his Bible closed.
Some variation of this charming story has been part of pop culture in the United States for decades.
The “Deck of Cards” in Pop Culture
The Song, The Cowboy, and The DJ
"The Deck of Cards" is what is known in the music industry as a “recitation song”. Early references date back to a mid 18th century prayer book called, “The Soldier's Almanac And Prayer Book”.
The first hit version of this “recitation song” was in the US in 1948. It was written by Country Western singer/songwriter, T. Texas Tyler, and performed by Tex Ritter. This version tells a story of a soldier who was arrested, or detained, for using playing cards during a church service.
Though Tyler wrote the spoken-word piece performed by Ritter, the earliest known reference is found in an account/common book belonging to Mary Bacon, a British farmer's wife, that is dated 20 April 1762.
More than one Country Western singer joined Tex Ritter and recorded some version of this story. Wink Martindale (see “The DJ” below) recorded it in the first person, saying at the beginning, “this is a true story,” and at the end, “I'm the boy to whom this happened.” In each of these cases the story took place on a battlefield. Both Wink and Tex (see “The Cowboy” below) were popular celebrities at the time of their recordings.
Tex Ritter was a singer/songwriter, actor, radio and movie star. His success in the radio industry as a Country Western singer led him to a career in film. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1964. Ritter's 1967 single "Just Beyond The Moon" hit No. 3 on the country chart. Not bad for a guy born in 1905.
One of Tex Ritter's early recordings is, “The Deck of Cards”. That 1948 version of "The Deck of Cards" made the top ten! At that time, the technology did not exist to capture a live video performance, but luckily a video of the song still exists:
Wink Martindale hosted the popular TV show, “Tic-Tac-Dough” from 1958 to 1978. Martindale was also well known for his numerous appearances on TV, including programs like, “The Tonight Show”. He started his career as a Disc Jockey.
Martindale's rendition of the spoken-word song, “Deck of Cards,” was recorded in 1959 and went to no. 7 on Billboards Hot 100 Chart. It sold over one million copies that year! But the “coup de grace” is this. In addition to the audio recording, Wink performed this live, in front of audiences. Here is one of those:
The Big Question
This story obviously has unique and strong appeal down through the years. First to capture that popularity was Tex Ritter. (Not some lonesome cowboy, but a celebrity everyone knew.) Then Wink Martindale. Again, a celebrity everyone knew. The Big Question: which of today's celebrities will be next to do their version of this popular story?
Well, who do you think it will be?
Want more uses for playing cards? Learn more: What is Card Artistry, or Popular Self Working Card Tricks, or 40+ Card Games For All Occasions.
About the writer: Joey Pipia is a freelance writer and magician residing in Port Townsend, WA.