in chess notation, n is for knight because k is for king. this keeps tripping me up. pawns get no letter; they are identified solely by their position. i’ve been playing games over facetime with some of the guys--andy, pat, grapeshit--in addition to matches with feigmann. i learned notation to safeguard against any discrepancies between the boards.
castling king side is 0-0, queen side 0-0-0; x means captures, + indicates a check, and # checkmate; = is used to signal a pawn promotion, followed by the letter of the piece the pawn becomes. curious, eh? the earned queen unidentifiable from the original, her history erased. there are also notation systems for indicating the quality of a move: ! (good move), ? (bad move), !! (brilliant move), ?? (terrible move), !? (unusual move), and ?! (dubious move). i don’t use these, but i was so charmed by the notation for unusual vs dubious, i figured i’d include them here.
during our game pat told me how he recently came close to pulling the trigger on a pool table. you get a table i’m staying with you next time i’m out there, i told him. obviously, he said, insulted i’d think otherwise. pool is a rewarding way for pat and i to spend our time together. once i had to catch a flight, and we were tied at five games apiece. even stevens or there can only be one highlander? he asked. <quote-01>we played one more<quote-01>.
i wonder whether my dad would enjoy pool. we played a lot of <quote-02>carroms<quote-02> when i was young--carroms, mastermind, stratego (pronounced struh-tee-djee-oh in my house for some reason)--but mostly it was cards. still is. we webbers love our cards. we get it from nana. never met a banfill doesn’t like cards, my dad says. there’s a lot of them too--banfills that is. nana’s the second oldest of fourteen; my dad is senior to a handful of his uncles. originally from nova scotia, a portion of the family settled in idaho, and when grandpa retired from the post office in san dimas, that’s where he and nana moved: wendell, idaho. fourteen, come to think of it, is also the number of hours it takes to drive from upland to wendell. my dad preferred to do it in a single day. he’d get to bed around 5pm the night before and wake us up to leave around 2am. my sister and i would get in the car and promptly fall back asleep, <quote-03>waking for breakfast in vegas at sunrise<quote-03>.
breakfast in vegas--need i say more, murph? my parents drove me across the country to drop me off at college freshman year, hoke, and they--murph, pat, and a couple others--said they’d meet us for a sendoff meal. i saw them pass us on the freeway before i nodded off in the back of the car like i did as a child on the way to nana’s. needless to say, <quote-04>they never showed<quote-04>. i waited by the payphone outside the diner for one of them to return my call, assuring my parents that my friends wouldn’t stand us up, but to hear pat tell it, it was us who <quote-05>ditched<quote-05> them. evidently, this is why he refuses to return the shovel he borrowed from my father years prior. i mean, give me a fuckin’ break. he lost that shovel the day he borrowed it.
don and una moved into an old farmhouse on 80 acres of cornfield. my father drove up with jim lassiter to help with various repairs. i wanted to go with them, but my father said no. i was ten at the time. i remember waking in the middle of the night to the smells of their early morning breakfast. the kids don’t know this, but don isn’t my real father, i heard my dad tell jim. my brother cliff and i aren’t actually related at all. he’s don’s kid and i’m una’s. i didn’t know what to do with this information, so i kept it to myself.
don passed away in ‘07. i wasn’t able to attend the funeral, because i was on hold for a job. i later listened to a recording of the service. my father spoke of how don had prepared for the upcoming season, referencing their last phone conversation: the grass is winterized, the hoses are drained, the patio furniture is secured for the wind of the winter, and all the tools are put away. don was a gentle spirit; my mother maintains a great affection for his memory.
driving up to spend time with una has become more difficult for my parents since georgia came to live with them. georgia is my mother’s mother. she’s 95 and couldn’t be more thrilled sarah and i are having a baby. oh, i just hope he gets here before i have to go to heaven, <quote-06>she tells us<quote-06>. she has alzheimer’s, but thankfully the disease’s progression has slowed. una’s mental deterioration, by contrast, has, unfortunately, remained steady. last fall my parents were able to carve out the time to visit her for an entire month, dropping georgia off with my mom’s sister in oregon. una had moved into an assisted living facility, so my folks had her place to themselves. they visited her everyday, taking her to lunch and to activities at the church.
rebecca and i decided we’d fly in to join them for a weekend. the five of us played cards together in una’s room at the facility. she had a jigsaw puzzle spread out on the side table; she’d get back to that later. she was all smiles. we played spit on your neighbor, the webberized name for screw your neighbor.
cliff stopped by with his girlfriend to say hello to everyone. we hadn’t seen cliff since we were kids. they talked about their camping excursions in montana where they’d pan for gold in the rivers, showing us pictures on their phones of the small nuggets they’d found.
after una’s bedtime we went back to the house and--you guessed it--played some more cards. it was the first time we’d been together, just the four of us, in nearly twenty years. we sat around the round oak card table, the same table from the center of our den on grove street. remind me; did you copy nana and grandpa with the furniture, or did they copy you? i asked. drexel and heritage. they copied me, my dad said. either way, the effect was profound. the table was sturdier than i remembered ours being, from lack of horseplay, no doubt. rather than the national geographics, don’s hunting magazines filled the side table at the end of the couch.
the following day we visited don’s grave at the cemetery. the gravestones were all <quote-07>flat<quote-07>, inlaid in the ground--easier for the groundskeeper that way, i suppose. there was an engraving of a log cabin with smoke coming out of the chimney on don’s stone. una stood looking at it from her plot just beside.
we need to be sure to return with shears before you leave so we can clear all this away, she said to my father, pointing to the long grass pushed down over the edges by the mower.
from the cemetery, we drove to the airport, where to kill time before the flight, we played a few more hands.
sarah’s family, on the other hand, is not a card-playing family. she’ll suffer through a hand or two when she’s in california, but then she prefers to sit and watch. she’s more than happy with her role as scorekeeper at the guys’ annual big 2 tournament. she reminds me of don in this way; don never played cards. he’d read his magazines in the next room, occasionally wandering over to join in the conversation. why don’t you play cards with us, grandpa? rebecca and i would ask. because i don’t like it when i lose, <quote-08>he’d say with a smile<quote-08>. i get too upset; it’s not worth it.
without cards, i’m often at a loss in virginia over the holidays. i need an activity to temper all the small talk, or else i’m in <quote-09>trouble<quote-09>. i imagine i’ll benefit from showing up with a grandchild, but until then... well, let’s just say <quote-10>i thought of una<quote-10> this past thanksgiving when i spied an unfinished jigsaw puzzle sitting off to the side at sarah’s dad’s house. mind if i try to find a few pieces? i asked.
i joined sarah and her mother on a trip to target the following day and returned with two puzzles: a comic-book-style illustration of star wars spaceships and a garden scene mosaic of various plant and animal life, each 1,000 pieces. readying the star wars puzzle back at mary’s, i noticed an advancement in puzzle piece technology: the s-curve. i described my delight at this novel variation on the ubiquitous ball-and-socket connector to my father on our happy-thanksgiving phone call. oh, sure, he said, familiar with the type of piece. he then told me about the more frustrating innovation of centrally located pieces having a flat side. oh, i don’t like that at all, i said. yeah, it’s no good, he agreed through his laughter.
i was down to 70 or so indistinguishable border pieces on the star wars puzzle when we had to leave for the train back to new york. in contrast to usual jigsaw strategy, the black space surrounding the spaceships meant starting with the interior of the puzzle and leaving the border for last. i carefully slid the puzzle from the card table onto an old science fair board and stored it in the basement for safekeeping. we’d be back for christmas in a month; i could finish it then. thanks again, nana, i said, turning off the light in the basement.
when una started to wander off the premises of the assisted living facility, my father and cliff had to obtain power of attorney over her finances in order to sell her house so she could afford a full-service nursing home. she calls my father daily, asking him <quote-11>to come get her and take her home<quote-11>. my father invariably tells her she is home and encourages her to engage with the other patients at the facility. she doesn’t know her house has been sold; she wouldn’t remember if you told her.
i called my parents today to check in. my father was over at rebecca’s house helping with some backyard work. i was miffed he was doing this during quarantine and expressed as much to both him and my mother. i need to call my sister and find out what the hell she’s thinking, enlisting my father’s help when everyone should be staying the fuck at home. my mother emphasized the enjoyment my father gets from working with his hands, especially when it’s of use to someone he loves. what am i gonna do? hogtie him? she said. well, now? maybe, yes! i thought.
and while we’re on the subject, i wish someone would have hogtied him before he made grapeshit’s stilts. the whole idea was that we’d build them together--a little father-son time over the holiday. i sent him a couple blueprints for homemade stilts i’d found online a couple weeks prior. i’m having trouble figuring out what to get greg, i told him. i don’t know, we’ll see what we can do, my father sighed. they were built by the time i got into town. i painted grapeshit’s preposterously long moniker on them by myself. it’s cool, i got it, i told him.
needless to say, i was adamant the following year that he wait until i get home to build the potato/avocado/lemon launcher for paul. he waited, but all the parts had been acquired. tell your dad i’ll give him however much he wants to build another one for me? pat insisted after coming back in from successfully testing the launcher on guy night. hold on now, we made that launcher together, i said. right, whatever. so how much, you think? he persisted. how about you just give him his shovel, <quote-12>i offered<quote-12>. ha! never! <quote-13>he said<quote-13>, chalking his cue.
but to more directly address your question, murph: my 9th grade science fair project, if you’ll remember, examined associations between the senses by having subjects respond to a film that matched colors with musical intervals. i constructed the experiment and analyzed the data while my father enlisted the chaffey high school science department to perform the short experiment on their students. it was the size of the data pool that got me to state. i knew i wasn’t gonna win anything when a judge pointed out how my experiment lacked a proper control group.
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