It was a collaboration of love, for a boy not yet 6 years old. A custom chess set.
The boy, four years old, fell in love with the game. Mastered the pieces and moves within a few weeks of playing with the “learner edition”, a set his mother needed for at least many months longer. A boy who devoured the Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess book; memorizing the pictures depicting the moves of the game before he could read the words that explained them. Who by 5, often allowed his opponents to win so they would continue to play with him, considering the concession all a part of learning the game…
He, his Papa, built the wooden case, lined it with dark green felt. Measured and installed the slats to create 32 individual pockets for each piece to rest in. Routered the lid, precisely measured to rest just inside the lip of the case. The wood shone a regal luster with a dark stain and varnish and was completed with two brass handles and four black pedestal feet for support. Sixty-four perfect squares created the chess board on the top, displaying its purpose with elegant design.
She, Nana, made the pieces. Thirty-two in all. Two teams of 16 pieces; one ivory with a gold band at the bottom and identifying gold accents represented the white team. The other, done in navy blue with a gold band at the base and gold identifying accents represented the black team. Each ceramic green ware piece cleaned, meticulously painted, glazed and fired. A circular green felt piece that matched the inside felt of the case was placed on the bottom of each one, and provided a sliding elegance across the chess board.
As a boy not yet six, he cherished the gift. He knew it came with all the love they felt for him. He loved the largeness of it – the beauty of it and the time it took them to make it. Yes, he was unique and even at his young age appreciated those things. What he didn’t know, yet, was the legacy it held. How it spoke to the validation and respect of their relationship. You see, they didn’t make a child’s game set. They made a piece to last a lifetime. A piece that would last past their lifetimes.
In the twenty years they shared his life, they played all the pieces in his game. As a very young boy, he often saw them as king and queen of their domain - matriarch and patriarch of the family; providers for all. At times they stood firm as protecting knights, keeping a watchful eye throughout his childhood and teenage years. Often they slipped into the role of bishop, providing spiritual guidance or standing sentry as rooks, a place of refuge in a storm. And always, always, as the most underrated of pieces, as pawns, stalwart and loyal, supportive in any way they could be and at the ready to sacrifice themselves for him.
The chess set, after games too numerous to count, sits still today, in the place of honor it's had for the past seventeen years in the living room. The boy, now a grown man, is working to establish his own domain in the world. The chess set, and the legacy, wait to follow him to his kingdom.