Chess Mates

On the rare occasion that I work the library reference desk on Tuesday mornings, I have the lovely pleasure of witnessing something rather wonderful—chess matches—between grandfatherly old friends who meet once a week to challenge their minds and deepen their friendships. They greet one another, their voices gravelly with age, inquiring about family, health, and how they’ve been, then unroll the checkered, felt board and assemble their black and white plastic armies. Silence settles at the table where they sit as the match begins. For hours, these old men shift slowly in upholstered chairs, clasping their hands together on the table, their knuckles knobby and worn. Occasionally I hear whispered comments over the battlefield, small congratulations concerning small victories won. They mutter to themselves, hold their foreheads in the palms of their hands, strategizing. Well into the match I begin to hear quiet declarations.


I know the end is near then. Opponents on the defensive sit back in their chairs and nibble on finger nails, the gold of a wedding band glinting in the light. The aggressor leans forward, eager for victory, an excited smile making wrinkles in his cheeks. Inevitably, someone wins and someone loses, but every match ends with a handshake and gentlemanly congratulations, chuckles and sincere grins. The warmth of their bond fills the library.

And I wonder. Will the little boys of today, when their hair grays and thins, when the time comes when they talk of grandchildren and retirement, meet in the library to play chess? Will they build this kind of gentle camaraderie? Will they stare intently at the checkered board and plastic pieces of an ancient game? Will they sit in the silence and share the experience with other men like them?

Or am I witnessing a special generation of men?

I think yes, but I hope they will not be the last.


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