The Gambler’s Tale: When You Have to Make Tough Decisions

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*Featured Post* by Ayoola Adefila

I learned how to operate the stereo in the house when I was four. It was the only thing my dad had left to the rest of the family for unlimited use. I understood how to put it on and off, switch from radio to tape and also make live recordings from radio stations anytime I heard a song I loved. 

The stereo was vintage. It had a brown overlay with two black circle-like speakers close to the edges and two four-sided little voice outlets at its top corners. These were separated by a transparent glass that displayed the wave frequency numbers to which radio stations were tuned.

It also had an equalizer, different tuning knobs and an opening where tapes could be inserted with keypads for control. It could be powered directly from an external power source using an electric cable or through batteries which could be inserted into a given space.

At age six, I had gone through all the tapes in the house. From Don Moen to Michael Smith, Lenny Leblanc, Amy grant, Don Williams, Dolly Parton, other tapes of prominent artists and various radio live recordings. Music started to become one of the fundamental parts of my childhood.

Sometimes the Answer is not Far from You

On this very day, my age I cannot recollect, I ventured to turn on this stereo and play one of the live recordings my brother had made the day before. The songs ranged from Whitney Houston to Fela to Michael Jackson and few beautiful songs from artists I was familiar with.

And then I stumbled on this track. It was a live recording from an unfamiliar radio station featuring a Saturday live show anchored by Larry Izamoje who would later be known as Big Larry of Brilla FM.

The song was country, a genre of which I was a fan of back then. The singer spoke about the story of a young gambler who had encountered a drunk stranger who knew much about gambling. The stranger had offered to help the struggling young gambler ‘for a taste of his whiskey’. I couldn’t grab the entire lyric of the song, however, the chorus stuck with me like a shadow in midday.

It went thus;
You gotta know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done

“Kenny Rogers” Larry’s unmistakable voice soared through the stereo speakers as the song slipped into an outro. “The Gambler’s Tale” he continued and as the song slowly faded, he would go about his rant on the show and then get cut off as the next track began to play.

That tape became my favorite tape and Gambler’s tale the song to look forward to – it also had many lovely songs. The words of the chorus never left my head and even though as a kid I never really understood the meaning, I took that it taught about the life ahead, the life I was yet to see.

Many years later, I would finally find the song online and listen to it over and over again and every time I would imagine Larry’s voice as soon as the song began to fade saying “Kenny Rogers” and “The Gambler’s tale” before replaying it over and over again.

Knowing What to Do is the Hardest Part

Many years through life,  now I know  Kenny was right. Every hand was a winner and every hand a loser and the secret to life was knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep. And knowing was the hardest part of it all.

Not throwing away, not keeping. Just knowing when to do what. If only you had known, If only I knew, If only we had known. If only… if only knowledge was made available, maybe we would have done better, fought harder, live rightly, loved truly or never loved at all. Knowing is man’s biggest challenge..

But God Knows Best…

My walk in faith later made me realize that I served a God that knew all things and ‘knowing’ wasn’t His problem. So whenever I wanted to make a big decision, I’d ask God to tell me what to hold on to, when to fold it all up, who to walk away from and when to run.

This was no longer a gambler’s tale. It was mine.  “Nobody  has a  manual on how to live,” people often say but grace has given me the privilege to talk to the One who made it and to inquire of Him on how I can make headway in it.

So on a night like this when I need to make tough decisions and I feel somewhere in the middle of it all, I’ll sing that  tale again and ask:
Hold’em or Fold’em, Lord.
Father, Walk away or Run.
Rest in Peace
Kenny Rogers

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