It was Marvin and Priscilla's first Christmas together after their marriage the previous summer. Certainly, they had spent many a Christmas in each other's company during their long courtship and engagement, but as a newly married couple, this one was to be special.
Marvin J. Mavin was the Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers in the National Checker League. The Doublejumpers were trying to make a comeback after a disappointing previous season. Priscilla K. Snelson was now the Chief Executive Officer of Rust Belt Holdings, a large multinational conglomerate.
Marvin, upon his marriage, had to give up his old Volkswagen and his downscale apartment in a rather unattractive Detroit neighborhood. He came to live in Priscilla's huge 5,000 square foot condo in an exclusive building in a very posh development.
Marvin and Priscilla had discussed what to do for Christmas. They both agreed that going to Priscilla's parents, who lived in a house twice the size of Priscilla's condo in an even more exclusive area, would not be best, at least not this year. They did not think much of Marvin and certainly didn't approve of their daughter's marriage to him. They did go to the wedding but left before the reception began, and gave them no wedding gift.
Priscilla thought to invite a small handful of her friends--- no more than fifty or so, she insisted--- to have Christmas dinner at her condo; for such affairs she always hired a Michelin starred chef. But surprisingly, Marvin was able to talk her out of it, saying he wanted something more personal and intimate.
Then he suggested spending Christmas with his mother in Ohio. He thought Priscilla would object, but to his delight, she said, "Well, Marvin, we did try a Thanksgiving with my parents, so I suppose it's only fair to spend a Christmas with your mother, even though she and I are ... well, let's just say we have different backgrounds and world views."
Now, Marvin's father had passed on when he was young. He was very close to his mother, who didn't really understand sophisticated things and at times thought Priscilla was a secretary in an office in downtown Detroit. Priscilla had only actually met her a couple of times. Mrs. Mavin wasn't at all the kind of person who would generally be in Priscilla's circle, which ran almost exclusively to the rich, cultured, and worldly.
Mrs. Mavin lived in a small home in a small town in central Ohio. It was a little difficult to get there; from Detroit you had to fly to Columbus and then drive for about 90 minutes. Priscilla thought it must just be easier to drive all the way.
"Not in the limo," said Marvin, upon hearing this. "It would stand out too much in that little town and make my Mom uneasy. We could just take my old--- oh, right, I don't have the Volkswagen any longer."
"We could take the Lexus, that's my cheapest car and there's nothing special about it," Priscilla said.
"Honey, there's probably like one Lexus in that whole town and it's probably an old one."
The discussion went on, and in the end they decided to fly and just get a compact rental car at the Springfield airport.
They left in the afternoon of the second day before Christmas and their trip was uneventful. On arrival at the Columbus airport, Priscilla insisted on driving saying she wanted the experience of piloting a "regular" car.
Marvin's mom, Mrs. Mavin, was waiting on her front porch for their arrival and greeted them effusively with hugs and kisses.
"It's so good to see you again, Priscilla," she said, "it's been since that fancy wedding, I think. How ever you could afford that on a secretary's salary, I'll never know. But it was really nice, though, even though you didn't serve a noodle casserole or zucchini bars."
Priscilla kept a straight face and simply said, "I'm glad you liked it, Mrs. Mavin."
"Now, let me show you to your room," Mrs. Mavin said. "I've fixed up the guest room with my quilts--- I knit them myself, you know--- so that you'll stay warm and cozy.
Mrs. Mavin led the couple up a winding flight of stairs and down a short hallway. "Right here," she said, "and the bathroom is at the other end of the hall. I only have a tiny hot water heater so remember, you can't take long showers! I always like a bath, myself. Now, I'll just leave you two for now. It's already nine o'clock and time for bed."
Mrs. Mavin wandered off to her own room.
Priscilla looked around. "Cozy, indeed," she said, "if cozy means small. And old-fashioned. I can just imagine what the bathroom is like."
"Aw, c'mon Prissy, this is how a lot of people live. It's homey and comfortable and it's what they like."
"You mean what they can afford."
"Prissy, don't be such a ... "
"Classist? I know. I'm just used to more ... never mind. But could you please not call me Prissy?"
"Sorry hon. But look, we're only here until Saturday morning, could you like, kinda go easy and just, you know, bear with it?"
Priscilla nodded silently and headed for the bathroom. A moment later there was a scream. "EEEEEEEK!" It was Priscilla.
Marvin came running. "What is it hon?"
Mrs. Mavin arrived a moment later. "What's wrong, children?" she asked.
Marvin entered the bathroom to find Priscilla standing on top of the toilet, staring into the bathtub with wide-open eyes and a frightened look on her face. "There's a spider in here!" she shrieked.
"Oh, dear," said Mrs. Mavin, "that's just one of G-d's little creatures. Here, I'll just pick him up and put him outside."
"Kill it! It scares me!" cried Priscilla.
"Oh, now, that little spider is as scared of you as you are of him," Mrs. Mavin said gently. She took a washcloth and carefully extracted the spider from the bathtub. "I'll just go downstairs and let him out," she said.
Back in their room a little later, Priscilla said to Marvin, "I'm not so sure this was a good idea."
Marvin, looking a little frustrated, was uncharacteristically gruff in his reply. "Could you just relax? I'm sorry my Mom isn't wealthy and lives in an old house with old plumbing and maybe a couple of spiders. Can you please just deal with it? We don't have to stay at the Ritz all the time. It's my Mom, okay?"
In reply Marvin only got a cold look. "Tell you what," she finally said, "how about we just buy your Mom a brand new house for Christmas. We can afford it, and then everyone will be happy."
"Everyone except her."
"What do you mean? How many people get a new home as a gift?"
"She loves it here. She's lived here for over forty years. You could never get her to leave."
"But ... "
"But nothing. You just don't understand, do you? Money isn't everything. A fancy house isn't everything. A snazzy car isn't everything. You know what's everything? Family, that's what. And it's what Christmas is all about. Celebrating with your family and being happy with what you have, not worrying about what you don't have. But you've been wealthy all your life and you wouldn't understand. I'm going to sleep on the couch in the living room tonight."
Marvin grabbed a bathrobe from his suitcase, and left the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
He made up something of a bed downstairs on the living room couch. But he couldn't get to sleep. After a little while he turned on a light and looked on the coffee table. Sure enough, his mom had a couple of back issues of All Checkers Digest waiting for him there. She must have gone to the library to borrow them specially for his visit.
He leafed through one of them and found an interesting problem that he hadn't seen before.
But Marvin was still upset and he didn't make any progress. Finally, he fell asleep with the light on. The magazine dropped to the floor, and the sight of Marvin asleep on the couch with the light on was what greeted Mrs. Mavin when she rose early in the morning to make some breakfast and finish preparations for the Christmas holiday meals, starting with tonight's Christmas Eve celebration.
"Marvin, son, why are you sleeping on the couch?" Mrs. Mavin asked.
Marvin stirred briefly and then woke up. "Huh?" he said, his eyes still only half open.
"Why aren't you sleeping with your bride?" There was a touch of concern in Mrs. Mavin's voice but no hint of reproof.
"Oh ... uh. Yeah, like, I was snoring pretty loud, you know." Marvin didn't want to tell his mom about his quarrel with Priscilla over the accommodations.
"I thought as much. Well, I'll just start up some breakfast. Pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, orange juice, and coffee? Or would you rather have a glass of milk? You always loved your milk, you know."
"Mom, that was like 35 years ago. Thanks, coffee will be fine for both of us." He wondered if he dared speak for Priscilla. She liked lattes made with soy milk and probably wouldn't care for Mom's favorite Maxwell House coffee, made the old-fashioned way in a percolator.
Marvin set the dining room table while his mom prepared breakfast. After about half an hour, just as breakfast was ready to be served, Priscilla came down the stairs and into the dining room. She was dressed her satin bathrobe with a heavy argyle sweater over it. Marvin looked up, and despite last night's quarrel, had to laugh. "You look ... I dunno!" he said.
"Save it," Priscilla snapped. "It's so cold in here I can't believe it. Doesn't your mom heat the ... " Priscilla cut off in mid-sentences as Mrs. Mavin entered from the kitchen, carrying steaming plates of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. She too gave Priscilla a surprised look.
"Cold, dear?" Mrs. Mavin asked. "Oh, I'm so sorry, but tell you what, I'll turn the thermostat up to 68 and then you'll be nice and toasty warm."
Priscilla managed a mumbled thank you.
"Please, sit and eat!" Mrs. Mavin urged. "A hearty breakfast is a good way to begin the day! Now, get started and I'll bring out the rest of the food."
Priscilla looked at the heaped platters and said, "Isn't there somewhere I could go for a latte and a croissant? I can't eat all of this heavy, greasy ... "
Marvin, who had held in his displeasure until now, finally said, "Take it or leave it. No place in this town to get croissants and lattes. But if you want I'll gladly drive you back to Columbus and you can just go back home and spend Christmas with your fancy friends and drown in lattes for all I care!"
Priscilla stood up and hissed, "Sounds great to me." She then padded back to the staircase and headed up to the guest room.
Just then Mrs. Mavin returned to the dining room with bowls of fruit and a coffeepot. "I'm sorry, I didn't make hash browns this morning ... where did Priscilla go?" she asked, noticing the empty seat at the table.
"Oh, uh ... she wasn't feeling well. Upset stomach. Probably from eating something bad at the airport yesterday, I guess," Marvin said.
"What a shame," Mrs. Mavin said. "Well, son, you eat up and I'll make Priscilla a nice pot of tea and some oatmeal porridge. That will help settle her stomach."
"Uh, mom, I don't think she actually wants anything right now. It's like, when she's sick, you know, she wants to be home in her own bed. So I might have to drive her back to Columbus. I'll come back right after, though."
"Oh, no, Marvin, if your bride is sick you need to be with her. Such a shame, though. I was so looking forward to having you both here and spending a nice Christmas together. But it's okay. I can go over to the Legion Hall. A lot of the widows go there for the community celebration."
Despite the brave words, Marvin couldn't help but notice a tear in the corner of his mother's eye, and to him it was just heartbreaking.
"I'll be right back, mom," he said, quickly standing up and going double time up the staircase.
He found Priscilla in the guest room just finishing up with repacking her bag.
"You can't do this," Marvin said. "My Mom is so hurt and I can't stand to see it. You need to stop the nonsense right now, go down there and have breakfast, and quit acting like the big-city hotshot. It just isn't right. My mom is simple, sure, but she has a good heart and despite everything, she loves you just as she would her own daughter. That makes up for all the sophistication and culture and money that she doesn't have. More than makes up for it because it's priceless and it's something money can't buy."
Priscilla raised her head from the suitcase and silently gave Marvin a good long stare.
Then she burst into tears.
Marvin went and put his arms around her.
"I've been horrible," she said. "Just horrible. I don't know how you can stand me. You're so right. Your mom's love is precious. I'll go and apologize right now and hope you both can forgive me."
"Don't apologize," Marvin said gently. "Just eat the breakfast. That will make mom happier than anything. And tell her you're feeling better and will be spending Christmas with her after all."
Priscilla wiped her eyes and nodded silently. Then she changed into a blouse and slacks and went down with Marvin to enjoy bacon, eggs, pancakes, juice, and coffee, with not a croissant or latte in sight.
It was going to be a Merry Christmas after all.
It seems like it's become a cliche for Marvin to not get around to solving his checker problem. But you can certainly give it a try, at your leisure, maybe after one of those big breakfasts that Marvin's mom likes to prepare. No matter; solve in the manner and time of your choosing, and then click on Read More to see the solution.
Today's problem is by one of the greats of the golden years, Charles Hefter.
Left here as a draw. Play might continue as follows.
and although White's man on 20 can't advance, Black can't make any progress. Drawn.
The Checker Maven wishes all of our readers a wonderful holiday season!