It was one o'clock in the afternoon on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and Sal Westerman had just come through the door of the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota.
On Saturday afternoons Sal's Coffee and Cake Checker Club had its weekly meeting, a few hours of checker fun with the "boys" of the club (all but one of whom were over fifty). Sal enjoyed these sessions and really looked forward to them.
But today Sal was looking uncharacteristically glum. Was it because the club didn't meet over Thanksgiving weekend? Or was it something else?
The "boys" were seated in the big booth in the back of the Cafe, and they noticed Sal's mood right away. Dan, Tom, Wayne, Louie the Flash, and Kevin (for some unknown reason also called "Spooler") had turned out today.
The one to speak up first, though, was Deana, the proprietress of the Beacon and the best baker in a dozen counties. "What's wrong, Sal? You never look this glum on a Saturday! Come on, cheer up, I've got pumpkin spice bars today, hot and fresh and at a special Thanksgiving price."
Although Sal nodded, he didn't smile. He sat down in the booth and greeted the "boys" in a low mumble.
"Come on Sal," Spooler said, "what gives?"
"Yeah, gee, Sal, it's Saturday, we're supposed to be having fun," said Louie.
"Oh, all right," Sal said with a bit of a sigh. "I just had kind of a big fight with Sylvia." Sylvia was Sal's wife of well over fifty years.
"Aw, that's no fun," said Dan. "But it'll work out, I'm sure."
"Oh, it always does," Sal said, "but Sylvia--- well, it's like this. She wants us to go to Dickinson for Thanksgiving, and not just for the weekend, either. She says if we drive that far in winter we ought to stay for two weeks."
"Two weeks, that's quite a while. By golly, you'd miss a Club meeting, wouldn't you? And Dickinson, isn't that where your wife's sister lives?" asked Wayne.
"Yes, it is," Sal said, "her sister, Phoebe."
"That's the one you ... uh ... don't really get along with?" continued Wayne.
"That's one way to put it," Sal said, "she's quite difficult. And when I told Sylvia I couldn't stand her sister for two days, let alone two weeks ... "
" ... she got really angry, right?" Dan said. "Um, Sal, I actually kind of get that. There might have been, you know, a bit of a more gentle way to express your opinion, if you don't mind my saying so."
"No, I don't mind," Sal said, "and you're right. A lot of this, well, most of this, is my fault. I should have offered to let Sylvia stay with her sister, and come home on Friday or Saturday, saying I would go back to pick her up when she was ready to return to Bismarck. But I didn't think of it at the time. I just had this image of Phoebe scolding me for this, that, or the other thing, like she always does, and I guess I didn't handle it well."
"It's not too late to fix it up," Wayne said. "Just tell her your plan when you get home tonight. I'm sure all will be well then."
"But darn, I was hoping to spend Thanksgiving at home and make it a nice relaxing weekend," Sal said.
"Come on, Sal," Dan said, "you've got to give a little. I've been married for a long time too, and Carrie and I have our moments, but marriage is a compromise. Hey, why am I telling you that! You know it better than all of us!"
At long last, Sal smiled. "Tell you what," he said, "how's about this. I'll show you a problem I have from my pal Ed in Pennsylvania. You boys work on it while I take care of something. I'll buy the treats, too."
"Good deal!" Sam said and everyone agreed. Then Sal set up the following position on one of the checkerboards.
The boys dived in at once. Sal walked over to Deana's counter. "A tray of bars, if you would, Deana, and ... can I use your phone for a minute?"
"Sure, Sal." Deana had of course overheard the whole conversation. "You can use the one in the office in back so you can keep it a bit private." She gave Sal a warm smile and went on, "Me and my boyfriend ... well, no one gets along a hundred percent of the time, right?"
Sal went back to Deana's office. He was there for some little while, but he came back out grinning. The boys were happily eating their pumpkin bars and drinking their coffee. Another half hour passed and Spooler announced, "We've got it!"
Life is not always smooth and human relationships have their inevitable difficult moments. It's what we do when that happens that makes the difference, and Sal seems to be taking care of things. Of course, some checker fun always brightens the day. So match wits with the "boys" and see how you do with today's problem. There's no disputing that clicking your mouse on Read More will show you the solution and the conclusion of our story.
Spooler played out the following moves.
18-15 22-29 28-24 20-18 15-22 3-8---A 11-7---B 8-11 7-16 4-8 16-19 8-11 19-23 11-15 23-27 15-19 27-32 19-15 32-27 15-10 27-23 10-14 23-26 14-9---C 26-23 Drawn.
A---4-8 11-4 3-7 4-8 7-10 22-18 29-25 8-11 25-30 11-7 Drawn.
B---Not 11-16 8-11 16-7 4-8 7-10 8-11 10-14 11-15 14-9 15-10 9-5 10-15 Black Wins.
C---14-17 26-31 17-26 31-22 White Wins.
"Nice going, boys!" Sal exclaimed.
"Everything under control?" Dan asked.
Sal grinned again, "Oh, indeed. A little compromise, along with an apology, go a long way! Sylvia is very happy with my idea. She says it will keep the peace and let her enjoy a nice visit with her sister without listening to the two of us bicker, as she put it. Now, enough of that! We still have a couple of hours until closing time so let's play some skittles!"
The boys played until near five o'clock, and then, amidst hearty wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving, made their ways home.
Today's column, featuring a problem by grandmaster problemist Ed Atkinson, is dedicated to his memory. Ed passed on suddenly this fall. You will be greatly missed, Ed. Rest in peace.