My grandfather, Pops, is the one who taught me to play chess. I still have fond—if slightly traumatizing—memories of him wiping the floor with me at it every night for an entire month during one summer visit. To me, Pops has always been the smartest man in the world. He was the one who knew how to build anything: Throughout my childhood he made me amazing things like night lights, music boxes, and a dollhouse with working electricity. He was also the one who dutifully tutored me in math every day after school for years. I would not have made an A in Calculus without Pops.
This year, Pops made me what might be the best present I have ever received from him or from anyone: A handmade chessboard, lovingly crafted just for me in his garage. He even custom-made the drawers to fit the pieces that he bought while stationed in Europe (Pops is a proud veteran and West Point graduate) and that he has kept for years. In fact, they are the very pieces he taught me to play with when I visited him as a kid.
I am going to treasure my chess board for the rest of my life, and my descendants will probably fight over it when I die. But receiving it also made me sad, because it has come to me at a time when things in our family are changing. My brother and I have grown up, and several members of our family have left San Antonio, or even Texas altogether. I'm starting to have moments when I realize that my grandparents are actually old, and that the days when they host a big family Christmas may be gone. Pops is saying goodbye to the chess pieces that he has enjoyed throughout his life. But he's also saying goodbye to the way things used to be.
Even more upsetting, however, is that when Pops and I broke in my board and played each other for the first time in years, I beat him. The seven-year-old me would have rejoiced at this victory. But thirty-year-old me? Not so much. What are you supposed to do after you defeat your idol? I find myself wishing for the time when Pops was unbeatable, when he knew everything there was to know.
Now I am the proud owner of this chess board, and the new keeper of our family pieces. Who will I teach to play the game? Who will think that I know everything, at least until they grow up?