“Victory is better when you earn it.”
This morning, Wyokiddo and I sat at the kitchen table and colored Thanksgiving pictures while we chair danced to some Bengals, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell.
And suddenly, I was transported back in time 30 years. I was sitting across from my dad, staring at the chess board and contemplating my next move. We sat at the kitchen table in pink swivel chairs at the house on Hirst. The stereo was playing the country station out of Laramie from the family room and we were locked in an epic battle over the cardboard chess set my mom had picked up at a garage sale for $.50.
It could have been one of a hundred nights we sat at that table. We would pass those evening hours playing board games and card games, everything from cribbage to chess.
He never once let me win.
Oh I suspect he forgot to count some points in cribbage occasionally to keep it close. But he never threw a game for the sake of my confidence. I asked him about it one time and he said something about how “Victory is better when you earn it.”
As I stared at the board some more, a smile crept over my lips. I moved my queen three spaces over and smiled up at him.
Dad studied the board a second, then stuck his hand for me to shake. “Checkmate. Well played!”
It was one of only a handful of times I ever beat him at chess.
Dad died two years ago today and I mean it when I say not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. I think of him when I hear a Johnny Cash or Moe Bandy song on the radio. I think of him anytime I watch a Wyoming Cowboys game, eat a piece of pecan pie or see a pelican.
“There once was a bird named the pelican,” he would quip any time the word was mentioned.
Aside from just missing him, I am saddened that my daughter never really got the chance to know him. Most of her memories of Big Papa, as she calls him, are of visiting him in the nursing home. And that kills me, because that is not representative of his personality, or his life. He was a big, take-charge kind of guy. He never backed down from a challenge and never ran scared from a fight.
As Wyokiddo and I colored and chatted this morning, I talked about about sitting at the kitchen table with my dad, learning how to play cards or do Algebra.
“Do you miss him?” she asked.
“Yes, sweet girl. I miss him very much.”
As tears trickled down my face, she leaned over and hugged me.
“Don’t worry, Mama. He’s still here,” she told me, pointing my chest. “In your heart.”
I have his nose, his penchant for bread and his shotgun. I inherited his competitive streak, his love of the outdoors, rodeo and country music. And my darling 5-year old daughter has it right. He is still here. I carry that life lesson about a victory earned is the only kind worth having, and a thousand others he taught me, in my soul for all time.
And those same lessons are the ones I’ll pass down to her. She’ll never have the time with him I would want for her, but she’ll carry a piece of him in her heart all the same.