Thursday, March 30, 2006

Chinese Checkers

As my Grandfather's possessions were divvied up amongst my Mother and her two brothers I held out scant hope that I'd get the one item I truly cared about, but last week it was delivered to me: his Chinese Checkers set.

I can't really explain how important this is. At a time when my parents were at each others' throats in a vicious divorce, when my Mother and my sister and I lived with my grandparents, I had no male role model aside from my Grandpa. I didn't even have male friends my age--my friends were all girls. But no matter how tired he was after working at the shoe factory or the book factory all day, after mowing the lawn and weeding the garden and changing the oil, Grandpa would always play Chinese Checkers with me, his fat fingers with yellow nails like horn almost too big to pick up the round pieces and move them. I think after Yahtzee that Chinese Checkers was my favorite game, and Grandpa taught it to me. We'd flip the set over and play regular checkers on the back after a while.

I'd rather have this tin game with its glass marbles than thousands of dollars.

Those were odd times. I remember my Mother waking me up in the middle of the night when I was seven and saying "Look what your father did to me." She had an enormous black eye--it wasn't the first time Dad had hit her, but it was the first time he'd made a visible mark, as if to announce he didn't care if everyone knew he used his fists on his wife. More often than not our neighbors would make comments like "she musta had it comin'." A few weeks later she woke me again in the middle of the night and the police were in the house and a friend of my Mom's was there and all of my sisters' and my clothing was in plastic garbage bags on the living room floor. Dad worked third shift at Caterpillar in York and we left around midnight while he drove a forklift load of bolts around.

At that time, and in small-town Southern Pennsylvania, divorce was unheard of. I might not be close to my Mom, whose politics embarrass me no end and whose naivite makes me uncomfortable, but she was a hero to do what she did, and she might despise feminism but at least once in her life she was a feminist heroine. So was her buck-toothed red-haired friend whose name I can't remember for the life of me--Peg? We lived in Peg's(?) living room for three weeks until Mom made arrangements to move back home with her folks, and I had to walk up a half-mile hill to the busstop while we were there (and no, not barefoot in the snow because it was spring).

Grandpa had a temper, but he never hit his wife. He beat his kids when they were little, but never spanked me (Grandma took care of that) or my sister. Their home was a haven. No more screaming and physically violent fights, no more drunken sloppy Dad barking at me to "stop wearing those glasses, sissy" and punching me in the stomach or head in a rage. I never played a game with my Dad. Not once. I never touched a baseball or basketball until I lived at Grandpa's house, and my Dad was an all-star athlete in those sports. My Grandfather took care of himself and lived at home until a couple months before he died. My Dad got evicted years ago, has been unemployed for a decade, and lives at the Y. My sister says he steals from local retailers and sells the stuff to buy cheap wine. Hope he gets his just desserts.

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