When I was about 10, while bored out of my mind at my grandparent’s house one day, I asked my Grandpa to teach me to play chess. Set neatly and reverently between two seats in his living room was a metallic chess set. Instead of black and white pieces they were silver and gold coloured. It was shiny like it held value to him personally.
I can’t remember all the details, but I do remember that he cheated. I didn’t know at the time, but he did. Looking back, he stuck his queen right in front of my king and said, if I remember right, “that’s mate.” I had no idea what that meant but the look on his face said that he had beaten me. He warned me that I would have to practice with my Mom to get better so I could beat him. Every once in a while, when we would head just a few streets over to where my grandparents lived, he would take his gentle time beating me at a game of chess.
(Elijah and I played the first game on Grandpa’s old board)
A couple of years later, nearing the end of his time here on earth, when I visited Grandpa in the senior’s home where he and my Grandma lived, we would still get out the chess board and play a game or two. By those days I was one of those distinct losers who represented our elementary school at the county chess tournament every year. But to me, it was a chance to practice to beat Grandpa.
I remember our last game of chess together. I’m pretty sure it was on this board. He had the set out already when we arrived for a visit. His voice was still ever calming, but weaker. The oxygen tank hissed gently as we talked and played. I had learned a few things about playing chess. I learned that you can distract people with conversation, humour, or even temporary insanity, and that distraction works very well. I intended on winning against him for the first time that day.
I remember my Dad stepping out of the room to have a cigarette as we played and my grandpa saying, “Don’t smoke Scott.” The spirit behind the words and the genuine authority in his eyes drove me to say… “I won’t” as I took one of his pieces off the board. It wasn’t long before my Dad heard those same words from Grandpa and took his advice.
It was a long hard fought battle with pawns into queens and random acts of sacrificing. In the end I did win the only game I ever beat him. But looking back, with the obvious frustration that he displayed, I am pretty sure he let me win. He once said to me, “Scott, you never let people win at chess.” I actually take it very personally when I lose a game of chess because to me, that is a sacred place where my Grandpa and I met. Each game is a memory of him and I play as though he is watching over my shoulder.
Today in our home chess has become the great equalizer. All ages, genders, and levels of competitive nature can play and enjoy the time. Once in a while it gets to be about smashing the pride of the other person, but for the most part, it’s about time together.
A couple of years back I was given, what I believe to be, the board that we played on that last time. Unfortunately, I found it too valuable to allow my supernaturally destructive offspring to touch. Shelved out of use for the sake of protection it sat unused and forgotten.
Months back I noticed a bit of work being done around my workplace with some acrylic sheets. I asked my boss if he would mind if I took a small section from an end cut, told him the reason, and he said I could take it. I had decided to make a simple encasement to protect the old cardboard playing board. I set the sheet aside and as often is the case, forgot about it. This past month, as some renovations were going on in our area of the plant, the sheet had to be moved out of the corner it was stored in. I felt almost guilty that I had never actually finished the project. So I did. I finished it. Resurrected from the abyss that is the storage area of my office space has arisen this new/old treasure for our family to enjoy.
As I write this, Charity and Keona are having a cruel game of cut-throat chess on the coffee table beside me. I believe they have both won a game each today. The trash talking is below average, but I sense an elevation coming as this game continues. As our minds meet on this plastic battlefield for the sake of victory over the other, our minds meet. Today we seem to be so detached from our children, and so removed from a constructive inescapable conversation about, well, anything. Perhaps, as I grow older and they become more themselves, it will become a place where we can meet together and have a simple special time that will be remembered forever.
I look forward to the day when Grandpa and I can sit down upon seats of gold and enjoy perhaps a reunion game together as we catch up a little in Heaven. He will ask me how the years have been and how I spent them. I hope he will be proud of me. I hope it will honour him how I’ve invested my life.
But for now, as I wait for that day, I will spend some time with those God has given me to love, and perhaps, with a warm cup of tea and a quiet background song, take out Grandpa’s old board and play a game of chess together.
(Inviting, isn’t it?)
“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
- 2 Timothy 2:2