Monday, July 11, 2022

Milliron Monday: The Black Queen

Abbott "Pete" Smith D.V.M.
June 16, 1938 - February 22, 2010
Welcome to Milliron Monday where every Monday we celebrate the legacy of Pete Smith, D.V.M., and  Milliron: Abbott “Pete” Smith, D.V.M. The Biography (Monday Creek Publishing 2017), including his wife Jody (1938-2021)

Don't surround yourself with yourself
Move on back two squares
Send an instant karma to me
Initial it with loving care.
"Your Move" ―Anderson, Squire

Sorting through a pile of typed papers from the Milliron farmhouse, Jody's typewritten homework assignments overwhelm the handwritten letters, the monochrome photos, and teacher's notes. Hoping this post would arrive earlier in the day, I've spent the entire afternoon in my cool basement reading stories from Jody's English classes at Colorado State University. 

This story is about chess. My brother was in Chess Club in high school. I learned to play because he needed someone to play against - to practice. It's wonderful to play, especially in wintertime when there's not much else to do. Jody and I talked about the game often.

The character in Jody's story, Harold, reminds me of Jody's father, Bart. I wonder if her story/scenario was taken from childhood. Or maybe bits and pieces as writer's do - folding parts of themselves into their stories. In March, I shared Chess in a Nutshell, the story of Jody's wedding gift to Pete, a hand-carved chess set from her trip to Switzerland. Harold's chess set was handmade in Switzerland, too.

Jody entered this story in a Mademoiselle story contest. It was not a winner; however, her English teacher wrote, "Not bad--assumes reader knows a great deal about chess--is a bit obvious about hen-pecked husband, etc., but a good honorable mention story."

The Black Queen
by Joyann (Jody) Haley Smith
Duplication Prohibited (copyright) 1959 Abbott P. Smith

Harold ran his hand gently over the smooth wood. He relished the silky feeling as his fingers moved from a mahogany square to a maple one and across into another dark square. The inlay work was perfect. The whole board was perfect, not a rough edge to be found. Harold followed a diagonal line of maple squares until he came to a lowly pawn, standing, feet firmly placed, on the blonde wood. The woodcarver had endowed him with a head slightly off center. Harold picked him up and traced the rigid horizontal lines across his shoulders, then the edge of his coat and finally the stiff lines of his boot tops. He put the little fellow down and picked up the bishop directly behind him. The bishop had a look of power, Harold thought, as he pushed this thumbnail into the design carved on the shield the bishop held staunchly in his left hand. His sword was poised for action. Harold remembered that action: Anderson’s bishop had swept out of the far corner of the board last game and picked off his knight, clean as a whistle. He’d needed that knight too. He placed the bishop back in his brown square and picked up the knight to his left. He loved the carving of this piece. The horse was rearing slightly, a nice stout horse with trappings carved into the dark wood. The knight sat him proudly, in full control of the beast. Harold picked some dust from the green velvet of the base of the knight’s little wooden platform. He looked down on the carved turrets of the rook. It looked as stable and dependable as any castle could. “Long way from the king, though.” He turned to the old fellow and rubbed a speck of dust from his golden crown. “Poor old man, you’re so all important but so powerless.” Harold thought of where all the power was. He looked at her, standing there beside the king, but he didn’t pick her up. The queen wore a gold crown which came nearly up to the king’s nose as she stood beside him. Harold felt gently the delicately carved scepter and cross which the king held in his folded arms, and stared at the roughhewn sword, extending from her waist to the board, which the queen grasped.

          Harold thought of the first time he saw the set. He had walked past that import shop every day on his way to work. He occasionally glanced in the window and on this particular morning, there it was, right in the center of the display. He stopped and searched for flaws in every figure. He’d never seen a chess set like that. The one Anderson had, the “Staunton design” was the nicest one he’d seen but it looked like a drab child’s toy in comparison with the rich brown and delicate blonde of this beauty. He glanced at his watch, “Better hurry.” He peered again into the display window. “Oh, well, what the hell; I’ve worked for old J.B. fifteen years. Guess I can be late once in a while.”
          He fingered first the smooth inlaid board and then the rough outline of the knight. The clerk leaned over his ear confidently. “Came in just this morning from Interlake, Switzerland – you know. It’s expensive, of course, but every piece hand carved, exquisite.” Harold managed to turn the little card around inconspicuously until he could finally read the price. “Well, yes, thank you. I’ll think it over and stop back.” Harold backed out the door and walked rapidly down the street.
          The set had tantalized him for three weeks. One day he was panicked to find it had been removed from the window. He hurried into the shop and found a matronly woman examining the figures. “Yes, they would enjoy these little horses so. I’ll be in again tomorrow.” Harold hated to think of the set, his set, being subjected to that woman and her brats.
          Harold felt proud and confident as he walked out of the import shop with the tightly wrapped box under his arm. “Just wait till Anderson sees this. Guess I’ll even show it to old J.B.”
          Harold relished the looks of envy he got from the boys at the office. J.B. was even impressed. “Quite a game, Taylor, quite a game. Funny though, I never thought of Effie as the type to play chess. Guess you never know.” Harold smiled weakly as he carefully replaced the figures in the protective foam rubber lining of the box.
          Harold glanced back at the board. “It was worth it,” he muttered to himself and to the little wooden king, “every damn bit of it.” Now he was convinced of this but for the first few weeks after he had brought the set home he couldn’t enjoy looking at it this way. The brown and white always reminded him of the time payments on Effie’s new fur stole. That damn mahogany queen with the folds carved so delicately in her long dress was the hardest one to enjoy looking at, even now, that the payments were half through.
          Harold glanced at his watch. He didn’t have much more time to admire his treasure. Effie’d be home from bridge club by five. “Good God!” He’d forgotten to put the potatoes on. He jumped from the chair and hurried into the kitchen. In a few minutes he returned and settled carefully into the stiff antique provincial chair. He’d been sitting right in this spot when he’d beaten Anderson. “What a game!” He couldn’t remember a more exciting moment in his life than when he’d taken Anderson’s black bishop with his white queen, and then Anderson had confidently taken his white queen only to discover as Harold delivered the final blow with his white knight, that Anderson’s black king was unable to move out of check because he was hemmed in by his own black rook and bishop. “What a game!” But that was nearly a month ago. Effie’s Lady’s Aid society only met once a month during the evening.
          Harold carefully arranged the little wooden figures into the positions of the last move of the pattern which he had been carefully working out for two weeks. He was on the eighteenth move now. This month he was playing with white to win, and he’d set up his cream colored army into good positions. This was, as well as he could remember from the article, the approximate way it had been when Aaron Nimzovich (White) had played A. Hakansson in the match at Kristianbad in 1922. That must have been some game. Harold hadn’t been able to put the magazine down until he’d read the article four times word for word. He remembered how upset he’d been, one day carrying the garbage out, to discover that the entire end of the game had been soaked up by coffee grounds. He had rescued a sheet or two but Effie had burned them. “The filthy things,” she had said, “you’ve gone crazy; the very idea of keeping garbage soaked papers in my house.” Harold shook his head as he thought of it again, but at least he remembered enough to work on the moves.
          “Let’s see,” he muttered, “where was I? Oh, yes.” He moved the last piece into its former place. “White was preparing to attack the queen and king. White had played pawn takes queen’s pawn, and this capture had opened the queen’s bishop’s file. Black’s queen and king stood naked and exposed on an open file. Black hastily moved his king to queen one to get out of the line of attack, and White has played rook to queen bishop one.” Harold took a second to contrast the power of this rook, sweeping the entire file with its deadly fire, with the tangled confusion in Black’s enemy camp. “Let’s see now, Black’s attacked queen makes her one and only playable move to knight three.” Harold checked over Black’s position again. Some pieces were completely blocked and couldn’t move at all. Others could only make meaningless and ineffective moves.
          Harold moved his pawn to rook five and now his infantry comes to grips with Black’s most valuable piece. The queen’s rook’s pawn stabbed at the Black queen and ordered her Royal Highness to move. Harold surveyed the board. “But where could she go?” Every square but one was commanded by the forces of his army. Harold smiled again as the queen had to make an ignominious retreat for her life. He moved her to the only available square, rook two, and then played his pawn to knight six. Again his pawn infantry had advanced. Another bayonet thrust, this time by the queen’s knight’s pawn, ordered the Black queen to again retreat. Harold unconsciously rubbed his hand along the edge of the board. “Was a queen ever treated so disrespectfully?” Harold had left only one place for the queen to go. He moved her carefully and placed her in rook one, leaving her to sulk in the corner. He sat back and surveyed her. Her position was almost incredible. Unable to move, completely hemmed in, it would have taken a major operation to extricate her. He moved his knight carefully into position; he was relishing each L-shaped move.
          Harold started as the door slammed and Effie called from the kitchen, “Harold, get in here and put these groceries away. I’d certainly have thought a grown man could have remembered these little things when he shopped, but at any rate, I took time out from Bridge club to pick them up,” her voice trailed off as she shut the bathroom door.
          “Yes, Effie-love, right away.”
          Harold moved his rook over to guard the file toward which his knight was moving. Black had no useful moves left, so quite fairly, he moved a black pawn meaninglessly. He looked again at the queen hovering, helpless, in her little corner. He picked up the knight, caressing its square carving and moved it in position for the final kill. He moved another black pawn aimlessly.
         “Harold, for heaven’s sake, quit playing with your little toys. The milk’s getting warm.”
          Harold swept the knight into the corner and watched the trapped queen tumble to the floor. He smiled. “Yes, dear, coming right away.”

Through captivating, powerful, and emotional anecdotes, we celebrate the life of Dr. Abbott P. Smith. His biography takes the reader from smiles to laughter to empathy and tears. Dr. Smith gave us compelling lessons learned from animals; the role animals play in the human condition, the joy of loving an animal, and the awe of their spirituality. A tender and profound look into the life of a skilled veterinarian.


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