Checker’s Mate (by Cheaux

Summary: It’s all a matter of perspective.
Written for day 5 of the 2021 Advent Calendar.
Rating: G
Word Count:  979


Bonanza
~*~*~ Advent Calendar ~*~*~
* Day 5 *

Checker’s Mate

 

It’s been months since I’ve played checkers, the game Homer and Plato wrote about thousands of years ago.  Chess may be the game of kings, but checkers belongs to the people and the 64 square board has been ubiquitous on the Ponderosa not only at the house but in the bunkhouse and line shacks.

I taught Adam to play when he was four and by the time we left Missouri to head west he was an old hat. I’d stained alternate squares brown on a salvaged piece of lumber and crosscut a fallen limb from a fir tree for the checkers, painting those red and black. Inger fashioned a bag for the pieces out of a feed sack and Adam carried the set from wagon to wagon looking for someone to play.  He never lacked opponents because adults as well as children on the wagon train, regardless of native language, were familiar with the game’s rules, although some called it Draughts.

After his brothers grew up, Adam tried to get them to play chess but only Joe showed any interest. Naturally, it turned out that he just liked the horse pieces. Nevertheless, Adam taught him the rules and was at first pleasantly surprised at his youngest brother’s grasp of the game.  He willingly shared opening gambits and middle- and end-game strategies, however, he became infuriated when Joe would sacrifice his queen to save a horse. Ultimately he realized Joe was playing for pieces rather than trying to capture the king which resulted in checkers once again reigning supreme as an after-dinner activity.

As usual, Joseph delighted in upsetting the apple cart. He would bedevil Hoss by hiding a checker or crowning a king when he wasn’t looking. At first dismayed by the prospect of cheating, I soon came to realize that they were merely adding another layer of intrigue to the pastime, kind of like Hide the Pickle our German friends, the Grubers, played at Christmas to keep their children occupied and out of mischief.

Joe would often wiggle his eyebrows at me as he waited to see if Hoss would realize he had moved a checker on or off the board. If he did notice, Hoss would feign righteous indignation while Joe collapsed in a fit of giggles, and then they would resume playing. On occasion it was Hoss who would wink at me when he removed a crown from one of Joe’s pieces.

As they grew older, the sleight of hand and diversions became more elaborate. Joe’s favorite ruse was to sniff the air and say, “Is that apple pie I smell?” Hoss was apt to throw a query to Adam or me. “Who was that redhead you were talking to at the Mercantile today?”—knowing, of course, that Joe would look away from the board to one or the other of us to catch our answer.

Checkers became a bellwether for Adam and me.  If Hoss and Joe’s nightly matches lasted less than half an hour or worse, were skipped altogether, we quickly learned there was trouble brewing either between them or separately. The possibilities were three:  animals, women, or money. God help us if it was all three! But sometimes a more serious philosophical or moral question had one or both stymied and it was left to Adam or me to help sort it out.

Occasionally, silly disagreements or outright arguments would color the evening and a few rounds of checkers would often help put them aside, especially when I would rotate the board and say, “Look at it from his perspective.”

Perspective. Mine has certainly changed and not by a rotation of the board but by time itself.  For one thing, the people have changed.  Now it’s Jamie who plays checkers with Griff and Candy or Joe who offer advice.

Me? When weather permits, I ride into Virginia City for an afternoon of checkers with my longtime friends Roy Coffee and Paul Martin. Neither of them are able to make the journey out to the Ponderosa any longer due to declining health. I only get to town by acquiescing to Joe’s wishes that I let a ranch hand drive me.  Truth be told, I couldn’t mount a horse now if my life depended on it due to a bad hip. Now that winter is here, even those trips are few and far between. That’s the trouble living on a ranch the size of the Ponderosa…no neighbors close by.

I always bring the inlaid rosewood board Hoss made for me the Christmas before he passed. Roy and Paul love to reminisce and the conversation inevitably turns to our memories of him. I’m familiar with most of the tales, but every once in a while they surprise me with an anecdote I haven’t heard or an insight into the man he was.

Thankfully, I still have my eyesight and can read. Books have sustained me all of my life—as a boy, while at sea, on the journey west, and on long, cold snowbound winter nights here at the ranch. But as much as books can draw you in and transport you to another time and place, it is the sometimes inane and often profound discourse with a mate over a checkerboard that I miss the most.

Sparks fly up the chimney when I drive the poker into a log to reposition it. I almost don’t hear Joe’s footfalls as he enters from the kitchen and stands beside me, placing an arm around my shoulder. We linger there inhaling the scent of the pine boughs decorating the mantel, basking in the fire’s glow, comforted by each other’s presence and the shared touch.

“How about a game of checkers, Pa?”

He reads me pretty well, this mate of mine.

 

Character:  Ben
Activity:  playing checkers

 

Link to Day 6 of the Bonanza Brand 2021 Advent Calendar:  The First Time in Years by ElayneA

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Author: Cheaux

A lifelong Bonanza fan, Cheaux began writing fanfic in 2009 after the 50th Anniversary convention. She lives in Nevada near Virginia City and Lake Tahoe.

6 thoughts on “Checker’s Mate (by Cheaux

    1. What I wonderful reaction! Something every writer asks for. As Michael said, “make ’em laugh or make em’ cry.” I take either as a compliment. Thanks, BWF.

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