by Sandra L. Meyers
No place on earth is more peaceful than Crescent Beach during an Indian summer.
Reminiscing about how I hadn’t been on the beach since I was a boy, I sat quietly as a warm breeze rolled in from the Atlantic Ocean, and the waves crashed against the black rocks jutting out into the secluded cove. Nearly every glorious summer of my childhood had been spent here with my grandpa. He lived in an old shanty about fifty yards beyond the shoreline. Every evening after the sunset, and when my grandfather and I had finished our supper, we played Chess. Sometimes the same game would continue for two or three nights before he would inevitably capture my king. Grandpa taught me that winners in life are not always the most powerful, but sometimes they are the smartest, just like in Chess. Grandpa had learned to play Chess as a United States Marine while he was deployed to Vietnam. Chess had helped him survive the most bitter period in his life, and he shared both his stories and his chess skills with me. Grandpa had served his country, but more importanly, he took on the responsibility of teaching me how to be a man.
My father walked out on my mother and me when I was only a year old. She waited, but he never came back. Nevertheless, my mother was keenly aware that every boy needs a man in his life, and for me, that man was my grandpa, even though he was the father of the man who had deserted us. Although I never knew my father, I did accidentally stumble across a few photos of him once. My mother had tucked them away in the back of a book she kept on her nightstand. She didn’t know I had seen the pictures, and I didn’t tell her because I thought she would get angry. She never talked about him. So, I figured that I had better not mention him either.
When I was only thirteen years old, my grandpa unexpectedly passed away. One morning while I was eating my cheerios and watching cartoons before catching the school bus, I heard the telephone ring. My mother answered, but I couldn’t hear the conversation. After a few moments, she hung up, walked over to the kitchen sink, and stared motionless out the window.
“Mom?” I waited for a reply, but she was silent. I waited a long time before she discreetly wiped her eyes. Finally, she turned around to face me and smiled. It was one of those strained smiles when a person doesn’t feel like smiling but smiles anyway. I wanted to comfort my mother; so, I put my arms around her waist. She hugged me tightly, kissed the top of my head, and whispered the heart-breaking words I hoped I would never hear.
“Grandpa is gone, son. He’s in Heaven.” At first, I didn’t believe her. Then I became angry at my grandpa for leaving me. And we only had two more months to go, Grandpa. My eyes filled with tears as I ran my fingers over the calendar where I had counted down the days until summer. I missed the bus that morning, but I could not have gone to school that day anyway. I didn’t want to see anyone. So, I stayed home, laid on my bed, and stared at the ceiling. The cold reality that I would not be spending this summer at the beach with my grandpa hit me hard.
Eighteen years have passed, and there I sat on Grandpa’s beach watching the last remnants of daylight shimmer across the water. I had put off entering the house, but now it was time. Standing up and brushing the sand off my pants, I strolled back towards the shanty which had remained uninhabited for all those years. Or so I thought.
As I approached the ramshackle bungalow, I noticed a dim light flickering in the front window. A brisk wind blew from behind me as if to push me towards the porch steps leading to the front door. I stopped and leaned on the wobbly porch railing, but it nearly gave way. That evening, I felt anxious. A strange feeling that I was not alone overcame me, and I hesitated to enter the house. There was an intimidating presence that I could not explain. However, my curiosity compelled me to proceed, and I reached for the doorknob. The door opened before I could turn the knob. Knowing that the flooring could cave in at any time, I cautiously pushed the door open and stepped inside. The flickering light had disappeared from the window, and only the harvest moon lit up the darkening sky.
I fondly remembered the days of my boyhood when laughter had filled this sadly neglected room. The memories of warm summer nights playing chess with my grandpa and listening to his old records on the phonograph came flooding back to me. Grandpa frowned on watching TV. Idiot box, he called it. The musty smell of the abandoned house made it difficult to breathe, but I continued walking carefully towards the back of the house where the kitchen and two small bedrooms were located. The silence in the room was broken only by my girlish shriek as a rather large, disgusting rat ran across my boot, and except for a bit of moonlight streaming in through the kitchen window, the room was nearly pitch black.
I noticed what appeared to be a hazy figure sitting at the kitchen table in the chair that Grandpa usually occupied. I blinked to clear my eyes, hoping it was simply a case of blurry vision. Grandpa had died right there. The “nosey neighbor,” who came by every morning to check on Grandpa, found him face down. He had suffered a massive heart attack. On the day of his funeral, my mother told me that someday I would inherit Grandpa’s place. My father should have been the one, but he had broken off all communications with his father many years before. In his will, Grandpa had left the bungalow to me with strict instructions that nothing was to be touched until the day I returned to claim it. Spiderwebs had taken over nearly every corner of the house, and the creaky planks of the wooden floor were evidence that his request had been honored.
“Grandpa? Is that you?” I foolishly asked. After all, Grandpa was dead, and he had been for eighteen years. My eyes frantically searched the room for a candle and some matches. I remembered that Grandpa always kept his emergency candles in the drawer next to the sink. “Always be prepared,” he would say, “for those fierce summer squalls that seem to come out of nowhere.” Just as I reached out for the handle of the drawer, something icy-cold brushed across my hand. I jerked it back so forcefully that I lost my balance and fell backwards onto the floor. Mysteriously, the flame from one of Grandpa’s emergency candles lit up the room.
In the candle-light, I could see Grandpa’s calendar laying on the table where he had placed it next to his coffee cup that morning. March 15 had been crossed out just the way I had crossed that day off my own calendar that fateful morning. Clearly, my coming to stay with Grandpa during the summers had meant as much to him as it had to me.
Startled by the music suddenly blaring from Grandpa’s old phonograph, I was lured back into the living room. My eyes were immediately drawn to the small, dusty chess table near the front window where my grandpa and I always played. The board had not been disturbed one bit. Oh, my gosh. The chess pieces are in the same positions that we left them in eighteen years ago. I could almost hear my grandpa’s voice.
“Well, Sport, we can pick up the game from right here when you come back next year. I will be waiting for you. Remember, I never leave a game unfinished.”
“Promise not to cheat while I’m gone?” I loved to tease him.
“Scout’s honor,” he had countered, and he held up two fingers and stood at attention.
Grandpa, you are certainly no Boy Scout. I knew where he stashed his bottle of Jack Daniels that he sneaked every evening after he thought I had fallen asleep.
Suddenly, I was stunned by Grandpa’s black bishop which moved diagonally across the chess board. But it dawned on me that for the past eighteen years, it had been Grandpa’s turn.
Instinctively, I reached out and moved my king out of danger. His bishop pressed my king even more.
I made my final move. Then, his queen slowly slid across the board and trapped my king into a corner.
No way out of this one. Check mate.
I finally understood. Grandpa had been waiting eighteen years for this moment. I softly tipped my king and laid him to rest on the board. Grandpa’s bottle of Tennessee whiskey was right where he had left it. I poured two drinks and raised my glass to him.
“Cheers, Grandpa. May you rest in peace.”