Sal and Sylvia's wedding anniversary was coming up in a couple of days, and Sal still didn't know what to give her as an anniversary gift.
It was 1955 and the place was Bismarck, North Dakota. Sal Westerman was an elderly retired gentleman who was the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, which met every Saturday from Labor Day to Memorial Day at the Beacon Cafe. But this was August and the club was on summer break.
Sal and Sylvia had a great summer. They traveled to Las Vegas, where Sal played in the North American Checker Tournament, and Sylvia enjoyed shopping and shows. They visited relatives around North Dakota, and spent some time at the lake cottage they rented every year for a couple of weeks.
August always left Sal anxious for the coming of Labor Day and a new season of Club meetings, but it also left him anxious about his anniversary. It was just so hard to know what to get for Sylvia.
Of course he planned a nice dinner at the upscale restaurant in the Patterson Hotel. On the day itself, he'd be sure to call the florist and have a dozen roses delivered right to the house. But what to get for a gift?
For past occasions such as Valentine's Day and previous anniversaries, he had given perfume, items for Sylvia's needlework, face creams, and all sorts of other things. He even gave a gift certificate once, but somehow that hadn't seemed very personal.
At breakfast, the morning of the day prior to their anniversary, Sylvia poured some coffee and sat down across from Sal at their kitchen table.
"We've been together for many years," she began, "and I know you. You're fretting about an anniversary gift."
Sal thought to deny it, but fooling Sylvia just wasn't possible. They knew each other too well.
"I suppose so," he said. "I want to get you something nice, but I just never seem to come up with very many ideas. More perfume? More face cream? A new sewing machine? I just don't know."
Sylvia leaned forward and crossed her arms on the table. "How about this, Sal? We don't give each other any gifts this year. Oh, sure, if you want to go to the Patterson for dinner, that's wonderful, but no gifts, no flowers, okay? That will take the pressure off of both of us. You know I usually get you a checker book, but you have so many of them I'm afraid I'd just end up buying you a duplicate like I did last year. How about we make it easy on ourselves?"
"I suppose so," Sal said, "but somehow it just doesn't feel right."
"Try it, okay?" Sylvia said. "You can always buy something for me later on if you still think you must. Now please stop fretting and spend some time enjoying your new checker magazine instead of rummaging through the Sears Roebuck catalog." A copy of the latest edition of All Checkers Digest had come in the mail the previous day and Sal hadn't even looked at it yet, something that Sylvia couldn't have failed to notice.
After they had finished breakfast, Sylvia went off to her sewing circle and Sal retreated into his den. The new magazine was full of great games and problems, and even photos from the North American Checker Tournament. Sal was thrilled to see his own photo included! But then his attention turned to the following problem.
However, fate intervened. Sal realized if he didn't get going, he would be late for a doctor's appointment, and that was a bit of a sore point. Sylvia had been after him to get his annual checkup, and Sal had kept putting it off. Finally Sylvia made an appointment for him, and Sal knew he had better show up.
He didn't realize what he was in for. Sylvia apparently had told the doctor to give Sal "the works" and it was the most thorough exam Sal could ever remember having. He was even sent over to St. Alexius Hospital for x-rays and blood work. "You'll get the results tomorrow," the doctor told him. "We'll call you."
That was all the doctor said, and it left Sal a little uneasy.
Of course he told Sylvia all about it, and she only said that she was happy that Sal had kept his appointment.
The next day came, and it was anniversary day. Sal still hadn't gotten back to his checker problem. He seemed to have substituted worry about all the medical tests for worry about a gift for Sylvia. For her part, Sylvia didn't say anything further.
Finally in mid-afternoon the phone rang. It was the doctor. Sal rushed to the phone.
"Well, Sal," the doctor said, "I'm happy to say that all your tests showed normal and you're in good health for someone of your age. I'll see you again in a year."
Sal thanked the doctor and hung up. He related the news to Sylvia, who simply smiled and said, "Wonderful news, dear."
Dinner reservations were at 6:30. Sal and Sylvia both dressed in their Sunday best and even called for a taxi to take them to the Patterson. But Sylvia noticed that Sal was still a bit uneasy.
It wasn't until the shrimp cocktails were served that Sal admitted that he still felt it was a bit wrong for him not to give Sylvia a gift.
Sylvia reached across the table and took Sal's hand in hers. "Sal, dear, you've missed something important."
"What's that?" Sal asked.
"You're in good health. The doctor told you so this morning. I'm doing well, too. So we have the greatest gift of all, one that we've had for so many years. We have the gift of each other." She squeezed Sal's hand and continued to hold it.
Was that a tiny tear in the corner of Sal's eye? Sal didn't say anything in reply. He just put his other hand over their two joined hands and held on.
We can hardly imagine a nicer anniversary for Sal and Sylvia. Not surprisingly, Sal forgot all about checkers for the moment. That leaves it to you, our reader, to solve that problem from All Checkers Digest on his behalf. It's quite a good one. See what you can do and then click on Read More to reveal the solution.
Spectacular, but White must still win the endgame. The following is computer play. Variations are of course possible.
This interesting problem, which combines a stroke with an instructive endgame, was published in 1891 and attributed only to a composer with the pen name "America."