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Posted By Opening the Heart

   It was a tense moment in early August as I picked up the dice, during a rough stretch when I had fallen behind my friend, Ab, 9-3, in the 10th Annual Summer Backgammon Tournament at Baker's Beach in Westport, Massachusetts. There were probably close to 20,000 people, as I remember, gathered around us on the beach, with barely a person even whispering a tense word. Ab stared intently at the board, every bit of attention focused on my next critical throw- double 4's, a tremendous gasp from the crowd as I not only won the game, but went on to take an 11-10 lead by the end of August: a truly amazing comeback!

   During the winter months, Ab would send me a post card with a picture of the Swiss alps, saying that he was taking an advanced seminar with Europe's backgammon master, Wolfgang Steiner. I would send Ab a postcard back with a picture of St. Mark's Square in Venice, saying that I had taken the seminar two years ago and that Steiner's reputation was vastly overrated.

   One day a young man wandered over to us as we played our favorite game and asked if he could "play the winner". Ab and I glanced at each other and he said that we wouldn't know "the winner" until the Fall. The young man watched anyway. After Ab moved a 6-4 dice throw, I said "Ab, that Nimzo-Indian defense you're playing was discredited 6 months ago in an article in the Viennese Backgammon Journal". Ab calmly looked up and asked me if I had read Wallett's brilliant rebuttal of Steiner in the Parisian Backgammon Monthly. The young man looked in awe to be in the presence of such players.

   Ab is my old friend- not like Elliot and I, who go back to 5th grade together. Ab is old (88) and he is my friend. About 65 years ago when he graduated Brown University, he worked for two years and saved every penny while he waited for his beloved Marilyn to also graduate Brown. When she got her diploma, Ab had saved enough for a down payment on a house in Fall River and he carried Marilyn over the threshhold of that house where they have lived ever since. Until next month when they will move to a senior living community in Providence. Ab will also resign as chairman of the board of a major bank in Fall River. He will end his 25 years of service at a soup kitchen and a food distribution center. He will continue playing clarinet and trumpet in a band but will cut back on the number of gigs.

   As we walked along the beach one day this summer, he bent down and picked up a banded rock- a rock with, usually, a white band around it. He cleaned off the sand, looked at it intently and showed it to me. "Jon, this is a beauty. I'll have it assessed professionally, but I would guess it's worth at least $30,000." I said "at least that much, Ab. Your collection must, easily, be worth tens of millions by now".

   He told me he was nervous about the move from his home: "All my friends from Fall River are gone now.... I'll have to make new friends, I guess. And it won't be easy going through all the letting go at once- but it's time." I told him that once they move, we could extend the summer backgammon tournaments into the fall and winter. That cheered him up.

   I thought of all the things he'd done and seen in 88 years. During World War II, he was in an infantry division that supported another unit in liberating Buchenwald concentration camp. I thought of the all the things that he'd been asked to let go of and I felt such admiration and respect for my dear Old Friend. I just thought, "When I grow up, I want to be you". God willing.

   With Love and Respect, JonJon

 

 

 
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