Your Move Sita

We’re still on a break from Thursday Doors, so I thought I’d rewrite a post
from a few years ago when not too many of you were following me.

I think it was in 1964 when I received a chess set for Christmas that had apparently belonged to my paternal grandmother. Sita (Syrian for grandmother) and I had always had a special bond. People said I was her favorite grandchild. I won’t argue. I was the youngest child of her youngest child. We lived next door to her until I was ten. She liked the fact that I had a Biblical name and in her eyes, I could do no wrong.

When I was about twelve, she suffered a stroke that left her with no short-term memory. She needed constant companionship, so I spent a lot of weekends with her. I enjoyed those days and as you might guess, I dreaded those days.

I understood the notion of service, but spending whole days with your 80-yr-old grandmother was tough duty. Well, maybe not so tough for an introvert like me. However, being with a person with no short-term memory is hard. We would talk but she would forget the conversation as we were having it. We would watch TV but we couldn’t watch anything with a plot. We watched variety shows, and we watched cartoons. She had always seemed so serious so it was fun to see her laugh. We played a card game she called Basada which appears to be the game Bastra. If she fell asleep, I would do homework or work on models.

Once I had the chess set, I started taking it to her house. I was trying to learn to play better by reading a book of historic games. The book included the moves of these games along with some commentary. I would step through the game, trying to understand the strategy. One day, after Sita fell asleep, I set up the board and began working my way through a game. After a while, Sita woke up and came into the dining room. She looked at the chess board and said:

I know this game.

With an age-appropriate male attitude, I suggested that she probably was thinking of checkers.

She said “no, checkers, all men same. This game, men different” then she asked if I wanted to play with her.

My first thought was how awful that could be. If she didn’t really remember how to play, there was no way I could teach her; I would have to explain the rules of chess to her every time it was her turn to move. So, continuing in my arrogance, I asked her: “do you remember how the men move?

She picked up a Pawn and said: “he moves slow.” OK, that’s not how I would have described it, but it was accurate.

I pointed to the Rook and asked: “what about him?” She said: ‘he moves straight.” OK, now pointing to the Knight, I asked again if she knew how it moved. She said: “crooked” and she drew an “L” in the air with her finger.

I was surprised. I started to feel a little bad about testing her but I continued. I pointed to the Bishop, and she seemed a little confused, I think she was also getting annoyed with my questions. She didn’t remember the term ‘diagonal’ but she remembered that it had to stay on its color. Then, without my prompting, she picked up the King and the Queen together.

She said: “these are married.” I laughed, thinking yes, I guess they would be married. Then she said: “in marriage, the man is important but the woman is strong” and she held the queen for me to see.

Message received, Sita.

That made me think about how she had immigrated to this country from Syria when she was not much older than I was at that time. How her husband had died, leaving her with six children, my father only four years old, to raise just as the Great Depression was about to begin.

In remarkable fashion, this woman, with no marketable skills, a poor command of English and a limited understanding of the world around her, managed to survive and provide for her children. She was the very picture of strength in my view.

She remembered enough about chess to play without too many reminders and she managed to beat me on occasion. Playing with her made the chess set even more special and it was one more way we could pass the time without the visible signs of her condition. Playing seemed to evoke memories from her childhood which she would share with me. Of course, she told the same stories over and over, but it didn’t matter. She remained in her role as grandmother, telling stories to pass along her knowledge and wisdom to her grandchild.

During those games, she was taking care of me and the world was right again.


  1. Dan, this is one of those really special stories of a special memory of a special person. (Sorry, at 6 am I can’t be more eloquent than that).

    In her limited English with a stroke-damaged brain, she remembered. The best part was that it brought back her stories that she shared with you … although I know from experience that the same stories over and over probably didn’t feel so special at the time.

    “in marriage, the man is important but the woman is strong” – yup. I agree 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Joanne. She was a very important person in my life. I spent so much time with her, and she was always trying to be the adult. Some people would just do everything for her. I tried to let her do things, but help her. So, I’d let her make tea, but I’d have to tell her that the water was ready for the tea.

      Her stroke didn’t affect her older memories, but it was so difficult talking to her, because she didn’t remember what she told you a minute ago. I learned from being with her, that if I asked questions, based on what she had just said, she would tell the whole story.

      It was funny though, even her children didn’t remember that she knew how to play chess. When I told my aunt (who lived with my grandmother but worked during the day), she remembered but was surprised that she could still play.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a rich history and precious memory. I believe I remember seeing this post or some reference to it, Dan. I love your Sita. What a remarkable woman. Now I understand a bit more about who you are. Chess is a tough game. I never learned it but admire those who can master it. My mind is too flitty. I would love to hear some of those stories she told about her childhood. I always loved the stories my mother told me and my mothwr in law. Family history is the best kind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You may have read this before, Cheryl. I did publish this, and I’ve mentioned elements from this story in other posts. Someone mentioned that they liked learning a little about my grandmother when I mentioned her on Monday. I was going to give them a link to this post, but then I decided to rewrite it (I shortened it by about 150 words :)

      Chess is hard, and I haven’t played in a long time. I’ve often thought about the fact that, given her lack of short-term memory, she was approaching each move as a brand new scenario. I wonder if that actually helped her. I have to say, it was hard losing to her.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your Sita was quite a remarkable lady, not to mention beautiful. When that photo was taken, it would have been said that she was a handsome woman.

    With nothing in her favor, she managed to survive in a foreign country with no real grasp of the English language, raise 6 children, and survive the Great Depression. If that’s not remarkable, I don’t know what is!

    And as tough as it was on you, clearly you learned valuable life lessons from your Sita, and from those chess games. How very lucky you were to have that special bond with her and to be on the receiving end of her love. How lucky we are that you’re sharing your Sita with us through this post. Thank you. —-Ginger—-

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this, Ginger. I only recently found that photo after my mom passed away.

      Her life was harder than I can imagine. When my father was about 4 1/2, her husband and her two oldest children were killed in a car accident. She was left with 6 kids, two of which might have been on their own by then. I’ve written about her several times. I still think of her often. When I think I’m having a stretch of bad luck, I just have to think about her.


  4. Beautiful memory of a strong woman who loved her family and went the distance. I know as a youth you may not have understood what a wonderful thing you were doing, but the memory today must make you smile and feel good about yourself. I love the photo of the building and how your family lived near and supported the needs of each other. That is truly what ‘family’ means, and you lived it. That contributed to the man, husband, father, brother, and friend you are today. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Judy. My early life in that apartment and living next to my Aunt Adel was a great foundation. We were one big family for about 10 years. I remained close to my Aunt until I moved away from Pittsburgh. Those are the life lessons I am still guided by.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dan–this was the best. I have never understood chess, but your grandmother’s descriptions of the moves each piece can make makes the game so much easier for me. One amazing woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lois. I have always remembered the way she described those pieces. I can’t believe she didn’t smack me for testing her like that, but in the end, she made her point. She was so patient with me, and I wasn’t the easiest kid to deal with. I was able to see a side of her that most people didn’t. I think she worked harder to share that side with me, even when she was sick.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember your original post, and it’s a story that only gets better with time. I wish this country treated its older citizens with the kind of caring and respect you did (and do) — and not only because I hope to be one someday!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dan, You said you were not doing doors today. I would disagree. These doors will never be pictured. However these are the doors Sita and you opened to get us here to this point. Glad to hear you got to play chess with her. Maybe how we play chess is not quite in the same place where other short term memories are stored. Sita is a remarkable woman. I can only imagine what kind of fascinating stories she would have told if she and you were having a beer. Though it sounds like she told you quite a bit. A good story makes for a good day. Now exactly low long was that break Norm gave everyone ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks John. She did open all the doors for me, in many ways.

      She must have learned how to play chess as a child. Those memories were clear to her. I’ve often thought about this, and I guess she just looked at the board and figured out her next move as if it were her first move. She couldn’t have remembered a “strategy” other than to take advantage of any and every mistake I made.

      We’ll be back to doors next Thursday.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a wonderful story of your Sita and the chess set. I’m glad you were able to spend time with her and have these heartwarming memories of her. It’s interesting how the mind plays when the memory goes. I know from experience with my mom that they can come up with things you wouldn’t have imagined, or thought they forgot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The funny thing was that she had never mentioned playing chess before she had her stroke. We had played that card game ever since I could remember, but no other games. Maybe she forgot she had a chess set.

      Looking back, having to spend time with her was actually a gift. I didin’t fully realize it at the time, but it’s a strong memory from those years, and not many of the other things I did on weekends seem to have been retained.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Dan, what a beautiful story about you and your grandmother. At a young age you learned the art of caring. More kids should have that opportunity. Your grandmother looked lovely In the pic with your father. Our grandparents life experiences help us to overcome adversity and to power on. I know the more I write in the WIP about my “antagonist” grandmother, the more I reveal her life lessons. 📚 Christine

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thinking of her life, and trying to imagine going through the things she did, helps put my life’s challenges in perspective. The things we worry about today just don’t stack up, and she used to say that she didn’t worry because it couldn’t help. She just had faith.

      The life lessons these people shared with their families were amazing.

      Thanks Christine.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi Dan – that’s great you’ve written this down here, and I hope many more little snippets that will spring to mind about your beloved Sita – wonderful story – loved reading it. That trigger is the important thing as people start to forget things in later life … thank you so much – that was special … all the best for 2018 – Hilary

    Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve obviously missed the others … if I remember and when there’s time I’ll come by and check the others out – if I can find them! But she must have been one special grandmother … so glad you’ve a few tales to be held between you and your brother and families … cheers Hilary

        Liked by 2 people

        • One I’d linked at the top of this post. I think they one had links to another one. If you search my site for ‘sita’ you’ll find most. Including the previous version of this post. I’m not saying you should, just how you can.

          Liked by 2 people

  11. What a most excellent post! <3 I love the fact that you spent much time with her and played with her, and especially I love her descriptions.

    Both my grandfathers were rather skilled and often played each other, one boasted of playing against Fischer. I have hard time memorising time and place and positions so I find this game a bit too demanding.

    For one birthday (of a chess-playing ex) I made chess pieces from dark and light marzipan and we played to eat for real! :D

    Liked by 2 people

    • I sent that too soon. It was clear that she knew how the game was played. I shouldn’t have kept testing her but I’m so glad she got to the point about the king and queen. That was s but if her wisdom that she threw in.

      I haven’t played in a long time. I’d have to brush up before playing anyone with any skill. Fisher? That would never happen for me.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. A most excellent, and heartwarming post Dan! What wonderful memories you have of Grandmother, and that chess set is a treasure. I didn’t grow up with Grandparents. Mine had passed long before I was born, and my Maternal Grandmother died when I was just 13 weeks old. I know I missed something special.
    Your time spent with your Sita, the memories, that chess set…priceless!

    My Dad tried to teach me chess and checkers, but I didn’t have the patience or interest really to be any good. He would get so frustrated with me about it. Funny thing, just last week I was shopping checkers game boards to teach #1 Grandson. I feel like once taught the game he’d get it and surpass me in no time, then onto chess.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Deborah. She was a wonderful influence in my life. I think of her often.

      I got pretty good with chess, but I really didn’t have the patience to keep playing. In college, a friend taught me Backgammon and I was hooked. It’s more fun and it goes faster. I haven’t played chess in years.

      Good luck with checkers, I was never very good at that game.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Absolutely wonderful story, Dan. It’s a shame that families today are spread all over the place. Living next door sounds like something from a movie like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or I remember Mamma. Children don’t get to grow up with a Sita. What a treasure for you!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I short-term memory is damaged but some of it is still there anyway. I just have to write more thing down is all in order to remember them.

    Grandmas are great. At least my paternal and maternal ones were. And they were so different from each other despite the fact that both were highly intelligent.

    Out of curiosity, are you Greek?

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I’m so glad you reposted this. What a precious memory. And, I loved your picture of the building you and your relatives lived in. So different from my childhood (my grandparents and uncle lived on the opposite coast, and my mom’s family were in the middle of the country). Probably very different from most families today… everyone wants their space. Your post illustrates what we are missing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this story. Being close to my grandmother and my aunt was very special. When me moved into a separate house, it was very different. We weren’t far away, but I was used to walking into her kitchen every day on my way home from school and sampling whatever she was cooking or baking. She had her stroke a year or so after we moved,

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Wonderful post. I think I’m in the group that had read this previously, because “Man important but woman strong” is extremely familiar. (And wise)
    My grandparents were big on playing board and card games with me. I often think my cousins really missed out for all the not one-on-one gaming with grandmas. Those memories warm me now as your story did as well. We could not have known, as children, how precious those games would become.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you (again). You were one of the people who liked the original version. Sorry to bring you a repeat, but I agree with your comment. We played cards with my other grandparents and I always remember feeling good to be included in such an adult thing. I remember playing cards with Sita from a very young age. It was fun to see a woman who always seemed to be working take time to play. Now I realize the gift of time she was giving me.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. such a great post with some of your rich memories, Dan. And it is timely for me because yesterday I was thinking about what to write for a flash fiction prompt (the location is Syria) and we hardly ever meet anyone with connections/roots to this place and so I perked up when I got to that part (and dude – you gave me a much-needed idea).
    Fav takeaway was another Dan specialty – the outlining in the photo of where you all lived – so cool to see some of these extra details.

    Liked by 1 person

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