Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Playing Chinese Checkers With My Grandpa

Photo by Donna Campbell Smith
Playing Chinese checkers with my Grandpa as a little girl is one of my fondest memories. I remember we sat on the floor in the parlor with the board between us. We picked our marble colors and lined them up in opposite triangles on the board and the game began. Pom Pom was a patient teacher. Playing Chinese Checkers with him was a favorite pastime whenever my family traveled from our North Carolina home to upstate New York, Daddy’s home place.

The Chinese Checkerboard was made of tin and very colorful. The board had square base with a circular top that turned and revealed a storage space underneath for the marbles – ten of each six colors – red, black, white, yellow, blue, and green. My favorite was probably blue and I seem to remember Pom Pom always chose black. Within the circle was the playing field, a six pointed star. The points of the star were triangles and each had ten holes for the marbles to rest. The object of the game was to be first to move all ten marbles to the triangle directly opposite from the players starting triangle. Pom Pom and I sat opposite each other and our destination was to exchange triangles; his black marbles to my triangle and my blue ones to his.

You took turns moving your marbles, either moving one space in any direction or jumping over other marbles as long as there was an empty landing space on the other side of the marble you jumped. It was really exciting if you were able to jump all the way across the board into your destination triangle.

The game did not originate in China. The country of origin was Germany in 1892. It was first called Stern-Halma and was based on an old American game, Halma, invented in the early 1800s, which was played on a square board and the pieces moved from corner to corner. American businessmen Bill and Jack Pressman, came up with that name Hop Ching Checkers in 1928. From that it evolved to Chinese Checkers.

I had not thought about my grandparent’s Chinese Checkerboard in many years, not until a recent rendezvous with my first cousins. They’d come from New York and Illinois and I from North Carolina to meet at the Outer Banks. We had a grand time cooking and eating seafood in our hotel suite and remembering old times.  Somehow the conversation turned to all the board games we played with as children. Jo Ann said, “I have Gaga’s old Chinese Checkerboard in the car. Would you like to see it?”

It looked just as I remembered it. We didn’t play the game; it was late by then and we were ready to call it a night. I did take time to photograph the beautiful board and went to sleep remembering those days long ago sitting on the floor with the board between us playing Chinese Checkers with my grandpa. He took the black marbles; I chose blue.