Sentimental Sunday: Master of the Game

Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)

My father, Gilbert Huesca, and me, riding the elevator
up to his apartment after his birthday dinner,
November 2008, Santa Clara, California.

Dear Daddy,

To know you well was to understand your great love for the game of chess and how it figured into your outlook on life.

You learned to play chess at the feet of your own father, an entrepreneur in eastern Mexico who successfully ran several businesses to support your mother, and you and all your brothers and sisters.  One of those businesses was a casino – not the kind with slot machines we see today – but with game tables where you could play cards or chess.  There was a U-shaped table in the center of the game room, where up to a dozen people would sit in front of as many chessboards.

Your father – my Abuelito or grandfather, Jose Gil Cayetano Huesca, would slowly work his way around the table, stopping at each board, and playing each of the games simultaneously.  Maybe it was because he was the father of eleven that he could keep all those games straight, or maybe he had a photographic memory. In any case, all the Huesca children were expected to learn chess at an early age, and as the years passed, you and your brothers and sisters honed your skills and took turns helping your father at the game table.

You fell in love with the game. You got so good that you’d play blindfolded, two or three games at a time, and as you grew up you played in quite a few chess tournaments throughout Veracruz state, becoming known for your deliberate coolness and expertise.
When the girls and I were young, you tried to interest us in the game.  I can’t speak for them, but I found it too complicated.   It seemed too mathematical – not one of my strong suits – not to mention tedious and slow. I didn’t want to think that much. For some reason, you didn’t seem to mind, and over the years you found other willing chess partners – your brothers, your grandchildren, your neighbor. You took great pleasure in sharing your knowledge of the game with others, extolling the virtues of the game and encouraging them to always play their best.   
You also believed in playing all the way through to the end, no matter how long it took. Do you remember what happened several years ago, when you came with the family to Palm Sunday Mass, only to find that no one else had gotten to church yet?  We were an hour late!  It was Daylight Savings Time, and we had forgotten to turn our clocks forward.  
We drove to Santana Row, a nearby outdoor shopping center, to take a stroll and while away the hour until the next Mass.  The kids ran ahead of their “Baba” to a life-size chessboard in the center island.  We all knew what was coming.  You smiled broadly as Michael and Kevin tossed a coin and Kevin got the first game. The rest of us plopped down in the nearby seats to watch.  Before long, a small crowd gathered to watch as the two of you slowly circled the chessboard, deep in thought.  It was not to be a quick game, and we were not be be very good Catholics that day, as we ended up missing the next Mass.  
One day, after you moved in with us in early March 2009, I watched you look longingly at a chess board you had given Kevin.  It was a hand-chiseled black and white alabaster set you had carried back on the plane from one of your trips to Mexico, but now it sat in our family room, dusty and unused.  I asked if you would try to teach me again, and your face lit up.  Together we polished each piece as you patiently explained what it was called, what its purpose was in the game, its relationship to the other pieces on the board, and how to move it.
As we began to play, you spoke passionately of the lessons you had learned from a lifetime of playing.
It is a game of manners and strategy, you said, one that charges its players to look not just at a single piece or move but at the board as a whole.  Keep your goal in mind.  Have a plan to get there but be flexible.  Understand the value of each piece and its function.  Protect your pieces and help them work together.  Pay attention to the moves – and the mood – of your opponent.  Consider all the possibilities and their outcomes.  Choose your moves carefully, but act decisively and deliberately, and have a good reason for whatever you do.  Think first – you can’t take back your actions. Be responsible for your actions and accept the consequences gracefully and gratefully.  Learn from your mistakes.   Respect the rules and play fairly.  Never pressure or take advantage of your opponent, but try to help him or her if the opportunity arises.  If you win, be humble.  And whether you win or lose, thank your partner for a game well-played.
That first game we played was one I will always remember.  You won, of course, but you let me win the second game, probably so I’d want to play again.  It wasn’t necessary, because I enjoyed it so much.  We got to play a few more games before you went home to be with God that June.  Still, on that first day, not only did I finally see the beauty of the game you had spoken of all these years, but I also discovered that your philosophy of life was intertwined with the game itself.
Chess, like life, is a beautiful game that incorporates planning, integrity, and honor.  You understood that and wanted us to understand it, too.  You showed us how to look at the big picture, think deliberately, be responsible for our actions, learn from our mistakes, and look out for one another – always in a spirit of thoughtfulness, fairness, humility, and gratitude.   
You lived as you played, and you were a master at the game.  
My dear Daddy, for this and so much more – thank you.
                                                                    All my love,


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully



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