My dad brought me chess... His death brought it back.

My dad brought me chess... His death brought it back.

breezycreezy
breezycreezy
Mar 4, 2018, 2:55 PM |
5

As a 34 year old attempting to pick up something as vast, complex, and utterly intimidating as "real" chess play, one experiences a swirl of confusing emotions. Questions like, 'Why am I trying this?' 'I already have things I do well - why not stick to those?' and 'Am I really smarter than a 4th grader?' come to mind roughly 3,476,927 times per day. So when, after a particularly trying week of keeping every 'spinning plate' in my life balanced, I spotted the blogging function of this website, I thought 'why not?'

Luckily enough, the first question chess.com's wise wizard of bloggery asks us to answer is what brought us to (or back to) the 'royal game' in the first place. This was lucky because it suited perfectly some of the things I had been looking for an outlet to express. So, what DID bring me to chess? Why would a visual art teacher with a Master's in Education, a family of 4, student loans, etc. choose to begin absorbing himself in a pit of madness like the one depicted in Pawn Sacrifice

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My earliest memories of learning to call a little horse-head figurine a "knight" and a wooden bead on a tiny pedestal a "pawn" begin after one of my father's many Saturday morning adventures, when he would eagerly purchase most people's trash from yard sales. On this occasion, my two older brothers and I huddled around the day's haul with our usual excitement to find that dad had brought back a "chess set." I had no idea what that meant, but as soon as we got started moving the pieces around the board, I knew I had to wollop my brothers at it. 

Try as I might, however, my big brothers dominated most things at that time (I am still convinced they played by a great many 'house rules'). But the clearest parts I remember were my father's raspy salesman-like voice mediating our grudge matches and teaching us how the pieces moved, and the smell of all of our stinky dress socks as we'd huddle around the board after church on Sundays.

...Fast forward more than two decades. Life has happened. I've spent a tough four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, I've been married and divorced once, and married again to someone who supports me so completely it's puzzling (more on that another time). We have two beautiful children who, sadly, know they sometimes have to come after my many duties as a teacher. Life is busy but fulfilling. 

Then, last December, my family suddenly begins discussion about what to do for Pop. His health is bad and getting worse. He has less than 6 weeks -- it's renal failure and he wouldn't survive a transplant. Suddenly, that weird glitch we all have that tells us we always have more time with someone is exposed as false. I find myself wishing I had picked up the phone more, shown more interest in the things he wanted me to, etc. Two weeks later, early on Christmas eve, I got the phone call that Big Guy had left us.

Though my dad was pretty old to have us (he was 89 when he passed), and we had been expecting him to go sometime soon, it still hit like a freight train. For so much of our growing-up years, he had seemed invincibly vital, and impossibly young. To us, he was always a larger-than-life character, like the Big Fish in the movie of the same name. And though my relationship to my father was complicated as can be (we disagreed on many a social and religious topic), I have found myself juggling the work of the past year with grasping at straws for how to move past the hard fact of not having him around. I have contemplated mortality and tried to reconcile the temporary nature of everything. Which brings me to this past September.

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In a weekly staff meeting, our P.E. Coach and athletic coordinator was giving a pitch for us to try coaching intramural programs, when I heard "chess." Pretending rather solidly that the interest was for my students, I jumped at the chance. As soon as I began hosting after-school chess club, however, it was VERY clear how little I actually knew about the game. And so the conflict arose that must be resolved: How on earth could I know so little about something my father gave me, and that I loved about him? ...Why haven't I really learned this ancient game we were fascinated with so many years ago?  What happened to whooping my big brothers into submission and being the 'next Bobby Fischer'?! (Humorously enough, I'd had no idea who Fischer really was though).

And so it began. I've spent the past 5 months and change torturing myself Spartan-style to learn the basics -- between my teaching work and my family's needs. I have horrible competition anxiety, but I'm forcing myself to play in OTB tournaments. Because I love the pieces. I love the clacking sounds. I love the smells. I love the checker pattern of the board. I miss my Dad. And someday I'm going to wollop my big brothers and yours. happy.png