The musty old house had deep closets hidden behind the hanging clothes and secret staircases that led from the kitchen to the basement. The kids in the neighborhood talked about the haunted house at the end of the block and the little old lady a street over who was a witch.
I was a California kid and things such as witches and ghosts were not part of my childhood. But my summer visits to my father in Boston were infused with a sense of mysticism.
New England was a foreign land to me. I spent the days running around with the neighborhood kids from morning until dark. They taught my brother and me how to play new games, such as Capture the Flag and Kick the Can.
As much fun as my brother and I had outside, something magical awaited us indoors. My father had a large, square table set low to the ground where he kept a giant chess set. The pieces were 6” high and the board was made of black-and-white squares of fur.
On rainy summer days in Boston — and there were plenty of them — my brother and I played chess with the giant pieces. At first, we were enchanted by the unique chess set, but ultimately we fell in love with the game itself.
From then on, chess was always part of my life.
When I was older, I asked my dad if he still had that giant chess set and he said he had sold it at a garage sale. I was bummed. I looked for a set like that everywhere I went without any luck.
And I continued to play chess. My love for it continued to grow. Everywhere I lived, chess was a part of my life.
I played it under black lights at The Bourgeois Pig, a gothic coffee house on Franklin Boulevard in Los Angeles across from the Scientology mansion.
In every city I lived in, and there were plenty, I played chess and continued to hunt for a giant chess set like the one my father had. I found ones that were a little bit like the ones I’d played with as a child, but almost wasn’t good enough.
I continued looking for a giant chess set and playing chess wherever I went.
I played it on a hot sandy beach next to my small orange tent overlooking the rollicking surf in Todos Santos, Baja California.
My boyfriend and I played it on our pension’s wrought iron balconies in the gothic quarter of Barcelona with two kids from Boston, Matt and Mike. We all became fast friends, as backpacking college students often do.
Later, I played chess when we lived in Minneapolis, in Monterey, and then in Oakland.
I kept looking for that large chess set and could never find it. Now that the Internet was around, I did find pieces that were “almost” but not quite the same. They were either much larger or much smaller than the fabled chess set from my childhood.
One day, our friend we met in Barcelona, Matt from Boston, called. He was driving cross-country and wanted to visit us in Oakland.
We were ecstatic.
The day Matt arrived; he came bearing a gift for me. He lugged it up four flights of stairs: a giant plastic bag that looked like it was about to rip from the weight of the contents. I was at a loss as to what the gift could possibly be.
Then I peered inside. They were black and white chess pieces. Six-inch high ones. Just like my father’s set from when I was a child in Boston. Just like the set I had tried to replace, but never found.
Immediately, I wanted to know where he had bought them. They were obviously used and at first I kept thinking of the connection — Matt lived in Boston, my father was from Boston, and that is where I first played with pieces like that.
I expected him to tell me that he had bought them somewhere in Boston, but then he said he had picked them up at a thrift store along the way.
In a small town in Colorado. In a little town fifteen miles from where my father now lived. Fifteen miles from the garage sale where my father had sold his chess pieces that looked just like these.
You can spend the rest of your life trying to convince me otherwise, but I know deep down inside — those are the same pieces I played with as a child. Somehow, they made it back to me. I didn’t settle for “almost” close enough and it paid off in a strange, very cool way.