My old buddy, Dewey
My old buddy, Dewey, died this morning at 6:40 AM EST. He was 82 and in a lot of pain. I saw him last night at the hospital and I knew it wouldn’t be long. He was a brilliant chess player. We played every Monday afternoon, usually two games, unless I had to be somewhere else. He always bought me lunch because he loved to play me. I have been playing chess since I was a kid and I am utterly ferocious on the chess board, but even old and sick and loaded with pain meds, he could beat me about half the time. I never threw a game just to make him feel good. A few times, I would question moves he made because I knew he wasn’t seeing the pieces well, but that was the only break I ever gave him. He could surprise me with a gambit I didn’t think he would take. Old as he was, he would learn the way I played the diversionary game and turn it around on me to win. After two games, I would leave his house sweating and exhausted.
Dewey was not an ordinary man. He hired on with IBM in the 1950’s and learned system design. He built the mainframes for U.S. Steel and Humana, among others. I never once saw his memory falter, no matter how sick or medicated he was. A native of Pennsylvania, he was devoted to Penn State. At one point a dispute arose with a rehab facility about the day he was released. He said it was a particular day in September and the rehab was trying to add another week to his stay. He said that, no, he had come home that day and watched the Penn State game. He was asked, “Who did Penn State play that day?” Without missing a beat, he said, “Indiana State.” We got on the web and checked, and sure enough, he was right. His mind never faltered.
This morning his wife called and told me he had died during the night. I wasn’t awake that early and she left the message on my iPhone. I listened to the recorded message and it was like sitting in an electric chair, even though I knew it was imminent, and I knew that, given the pain he was in, it was a blessing, it still hit me like a thunderbolt. He had acute arthritis, congestive heart failure and Type 1 diabetes. I went to the hospital and prayed with him every day, but I knew he would never get out. I knew we had played our last game, but I still taunted him, “I’m not going to let you weasel out. We have a game to play.” He would answer, “OK, you’re on,” but I suppose we both knew that it was brave talk, and the game was not going to happen.
Tonight, I set up the chess board and played both sides, trying to remember what he would do if he were playing me.