This Side Up

Victories aren't always the goal


I’ve always been a fan of Thanksgiving.

Of course, Christmas has its pluses – especially if you’re a kid. The excitement of the day had me up long before my parents. Warned that I wasn’t to go downstairs alone, I’d lie awake; listening intensely for any sound that would signal the day had finally arrived. It was bad enough to have time conspire against you. But to top it off, I was so hyped and, probably from a lack of sleep, I’d end up with a cold most Christmases. Now I was being told I should stay in bed or at least I couldn’t go outside and play with some of my new toys.

There was no pressure to Thanksgiving.

Traditionally we visited my grandmother, which meant a 45-minute drive into New York City. That was always fun, although we never got to see the Macy’s parade. The fun of the day was the lack of pressure to do anything but being together and an after lunch walk on city streets.

Now I’m in the role of parent and grandparent.

We were so casual about this Thanksgiving that it wasn’t until Wednesday that we nailed down a time for Ted and the family to show up. 1:30 sounded good so Carol did the math and came up with the time to put the turkey in the oven. We peeled the potatoes Wednesday night leaving them in cold water to be cooked and mashed the following day. Carol baked up a pumpkin pudding and experimented with a date-flavored stuffing, which was delicious.

Carol put out some cheese and crackers expecting we’d have drinks and by mid-afternoon get down to the serious business of turkey. But the smell of dinner convinced us there was no need to wait; besides the turkey was ready. Once everything was on the sideboard, Carol got out her guitar and passed out sheets with the words to a hymn. Everyone joined in including my twin granddaughters Alex and Sydney and, of course, our canine companion Ollie who loves singing, but not as much as he loves turkey. We were all pretty silent after that, except for requests to pass the gravy and the cranberry sauce.

Carol thought we might take a walk after dessert, perhaps at Rocky Point. Somehow we were all too relaxed for even that. We cleared dishes. Carol and Erica worked in the kitchen. Ted assisted me with a computer problem and the twins got out the chessboard.

We had gone over the basics of the game some time ago and I was surprised to see they remembered them and were willing to put iPads away, although I was to learn later that Ted and Erica had insisted they be left in the car. I watched for several moves and then suggested I take them both on.

They were game, insisting they play white and get the opening move.

Was this going to be a family friendly contest?

Alex didn’t hesitate. She moved the queen pawn two spaces, a classic opening. Had they played since we last played; had they been practicing? On their next move Sydney [they alternated] advanced a knight.

Alex wasn’t convinced it was a good idea. She was thinking of moving the bishop. By their next move uncertainty had set in, especially now that I had moved my queen.

“He’s got a plan. Peppy’s going to attack,” insisted Sydney. They quickly moved to protect a bishop. It was what I had expected. I took a pawn with my bishop, wondering if the girls were going to spot the trap.

Alex was wise to me.

“Peppy, cover your ears,” insisted Sydney. I did and watched them whisper between themselves. Meanwhile Ted was stretched on the couch and Carol and Erica, having cleaned everything up, chatting.

Finally, the twins settled on their move, anxiously waiting for my response.

“Check,” I said advancing my queen.

“I told you,” Sydney with an edge of panic. Alex decided she’s had enough. She squirmed out of the chair they had been sharing.

“No, no,” insisted Sydney. She wanted Alex by her side. Alex turned and looked at the board. She reached down and took my queen with her bishop. Sydney was ecstatic bobbing up and down in her seat.

“Good move,” I conceded. Alex knew when to quit, maybe she even saw more in the game than I was seeing. Sydney played on, appealing to Alex’s advice on almost every move. Even without my queen, the damage was significant.

Alex came over to watch. Sydney pumped her for suggestions. It was a new dynamic and an insight to the twins. They were a team although Sydney was making the moves, but only after checking them out with Alex. With fewer and fewer players on the board, I thought at any moment Sydney would suggest playing checkers or simply concede the game. She didn’t. She carried on, appealing less to Alex when the outcome became obvious.

I wondered if I had done the right thing. Would they play again? Had they lost interest?

I remembered Thanksgivings are meant to be stress-free and relaxed. I didn’t make much of the game as we put the pieces away and Ted and the family prepared to leave. There were hugs and thank yous as they put on coats and headed for the door.

“We got your queen, Peppy,” said Sydney smiling. Somehow I believe we’ll be playing again.


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