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The Gifts of AL Remington

(About a 4 minute read)

It was difficult to beat Al. I think I only did it once. Or, maybe, I didn’t. Maybe I just came close. He was strongest in the endgame.

If you let him get that far — and it was hard not to — he had you beat.

Al said he learned chess when he was in the army, stationed in Greenland, with nothing else to do but his job and learn chess. By the time I met him, he was in his 60s, still enthusiastic about the game, and the man to beat at the Coffee Shop. He was a gentle man, reserved, modest, but exuding an air of dignity and confidence, much like a good father or grandfather. In his 60s, he drove a dark blue Cadillac on wet days and rode a Harley when the sun was out.

One day I discovered the Coffee Shop didn’t purchase the chess sets it had on hand. It was Al who did that. He would search garage sales for abandoned sets, buy them, and bring them to the Shop. He had to do that over and over again because people would loose pieces. But he didn’t mind. It was his hobby.

I think it must have been Al who got “everyone” — at least a third of the regular customers — playing chess. There were always two or three games going back then. Half the regular customers were kids and most of the kids were taught the game by Al. That is, someone else would usually teach them the basic moves — then Al would teach them the art.

Not just the art of chess, but other things too. He taught kids how to win graciously, how to loose without animosity, how to be fair (he’d spot the less skilled players a piece or two), and even how to keep a poker face. He never lost his temper, he was always encouraging, and he taught values. For instance: There wasn’t a kid at the Coffee Shop Al disdained to play, nor one he disrespected.

Several of the adults who hung out at the Shop were uncertain characters, but not Al. One man, Tim, was only there to proselytize the kids for Christ and had no other point in befriending them. Another man, Jeff, in his mid-thirties, was obsessed with getting laid by teens. A third man, who called himself Attila, dressed immaculately, neatly trimmed his white beard, and pretended to have wealth and connections. He would come every day to the Shop with his son, who he’d named Khan, and who was 15 and had lost his spirit. Attila would speak about Khan as if Khan wasn’t present and sitting right next to him: I’ve never in my life heard a more verbally abusive father. Unlike those characters, Al cared for the kids.

Al never told you he liked kids, but he did. He’d surely raised enough of them: Four biological children, two or three adopted children, and a number of foster children. I figure teaching them chess was Al’s way of raising up the Coffee Shop kids. He spoke to me several times of his belief that playing chess developed good, solid thinking skills. But he never quite said he considered himself on a mission to help the Coffee Shop kids. Saying something like that wasn’t Al’s style.

Al died at his home a couple years ago at age 72. I read his obituary to discover he was a minister. He hadn’t spoken of that; had never proselytized me; nor — so far as I know — had he proselytized any of the kids. I guess that wasn’t his style, either. Instead, he just served others.

Nowadays, I drop by the Coffee Shop once or twice a month. The kids Al and I knew have grown up and moved on. No one today plays chess. The adults sit with adults and the kids sit with kids. Maybe that’s the way people feel it should be.

I was reminded of Al earlier today by a comment Ordinary Girl left on another post. She mentioned how adults stay away from kids for fear of being thought creepy. That got me to thinking of how Al, born in 1933, belonged to another generation — one that had a stronger sense of community and wasn’t so set against mixing the ages. Yet, I wonder how kids are supposed to grow up with few adults in their lives?

Are they supposed these days to learn what they need to be a functional adult from Hollywood, the entertainment industry, and advertising? It seems to me we too often leave kids these days to be raised by the media.

Somethings we can only learn from another person. Things we cannot learn from a book, a movie, the television, popular music, or a video game. Somethings we must learn through our interactions with others. And some of those things that can only be learned through our interactions with others are very important. I discovered when I hung out with teens that many teens had what struck me then as a thirst to hang out with adults. I suspect they needed encouragement, insight into themselves, support, and affirmation, among other things. Those are not things we easily get from a book or movie.

Yet, it’s not a one-way street. I believe there can be tremendous benefits for an adult to having kids in his or her life. For one thing, watching a new generation grow up, seeing it go through the same things you once went through, can give you an invaluable perspective on life and a profound acceptance of your own aging.

I’ve come to believe any society which separates the generations will sooner or later pay a price for it. It even seems to me unnatural. I doubt any previous society has headed as far in that direction as ours. And, to me, it is all part of the larger break down of genuine community. It seems our societies are becoming increasingly fragmented, and I am unsure where that will eventually leave us. I rather hope Al’s generation is not the last to mix ages.

Note: Al was a grand- or great grandnephew of Frederic Remington, the painter.

7 thoughts on “The Gifts of AL Remington”

  1. Thank you for posting this again! One of my favourite articles because i grew up only having my parents as adult figures, we would, and still do, occasionally meet my extended family but only 3-4 times a year. I abhor the segregation of generations, it’s unhealthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think if we had a good idea of all that was causing it, we might come up with some solutions. But I don’t have many ideas about what’s causing the fragmentation, and no suggested solutions at all.


  2. Huh. Our parents took us with them to visit friends, etc. We both remember NYE parties at a German lady’s house, no other kids around. We weren’t too obnoxious as kids (well, my older sister wasn’t) and were very intelligent children. Maybe because we did these things with mom, especially.
    I also was friends with a very odd character named Bill Davis, or Mr Bill to me. He lived in crappy rentals and did odd jobs, and he painted for fun. He taught me how to weld when I was about 8, and how to paint a food truck, and how to fish for and cook tiny pompano to feed to his cats. He did paint naked ladies which unnerved me as a wary child, but my parents had him checked out before they let me hang out with him. He was never, ever, inappropriate with me.
    Now, I’ve gone off into my own memories from this! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They sound like beautiful memories! Mr. Bill seems like a pretty decent man to take such an interest in a child. Your parents, I think, were wise to allow you to hang out with him once he’d been checked out. I’m going to guess that your time with him helped prepare you for adulthood in ways that are perhaps too subtle to be fully aware of.

      I smiled when you mentioned being unnerved by his painting naked ladies. I had the unusual experience of growing up with my late father’s art books. Mom wouldn’t let me touch them by myself until I was about 8 years old. She didn’t want them torn up. So I had to study them in her lap at first. Of course they had plenty of nude paintings in them, and mom explained to me that art nudes were quite ok. It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to realize not everyone thinks of art nudes as “ok”.

      All the same, I can understand how Mr. Bill’s paintings would be a bit unnerving to you at 8!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had a friend who was so good at chess that part way through he’d take my losing side and parlay it to a win. Mostly I played chess with him just to chat. One time he switched sides twice, I am not a very good chess player.

    Liked by 1 person

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