When Old Men Played Checkers

Matthews checker players 09-09-1966

The September 9, 1966, Missourian had five of my pictures showing old men playing checkers in Matthews, down in New Madrid county. Editor Jblue must have felt generous (or calculated that it was cheaper to throw me an occasional extra photo at $5 than to give me a raise). Here’s the caption describing the photos (paraphrased to reflect that they aren’t running left to right):

Motorists who have had occasion to pass through Matthews in the past 20 years or so have probably noticed a small congregation of men huddled around a table in the Methodist Church courtyard. A well-worn checkerboard perched on this small table provides recreation for the retired Matthews’ residents.

The “regulars” are, from left, A.R. Curtis, farmer; W.L. Hubbard, retired farmer; James W. Shell, retired blacksmith; Burl Taber, retired farmer, and Gobel Trail, retired construction worker.

The kibitzers watch avidly (combatants are required to relinquish the board after two wins), occasionally offering advice, occasionally gripping the table top to hard their knuckles turn white.

A tip of the hat

Matthews checker players 09-09-1966But in today’s game, it’s Mr. Hubbard all the way against his opponent, Mr. Taber. The checker playing moment of truth was [in the group shot at the top of the page]. Even the spectators were silent, but by the next move, Mr. Hubbard’s tip of the hat and the sly grin indicated that he had the problem worked out to his satisfaction.

The move was fatal

Matthews checker players 09-09-1966The retired farmer’s manner leaves no doubt that his opponent’s move was indeed fatal.

Ready for the next game

Matthews checker players 09-09-1966All that remains is the formality of cleaning up the board and stacking the checkers for the next game.

“Shad-up and move”

Matthews checker players 09-09-1966Mr. Taber, concentrating on his initial strategy, issues the age-old challenge, “Shad-up and move.”

Where are these men today?

Matthews checker players 09-09-1966Not THESE men, obviously. They’re still playing checkers, but they are doing it with harp music playing in the background. I mean the fellows who have taken their places. I remember a similar group of men playing checkers in the Advance town square, but it’s been years since I’ve seen them.

Are they in the shopping malls?

Matthews checker players 09-09-1966Are they sitting in the shopping malls watching the passing traffic? On days when Mother is bored, she’ll park in one of the Big Box shopping center lots to watch the characters walking by.

How about the whittlers?

Matthews checker players 09-09-1966About half-way over to Kentucky Lake there used to be a flashing light stop sign with a small store on the south side of the road. Every time we went by, there would be a small gaggle of old men sitting and whittling. The stop sign is gone; I think the store is closed. On my way through, I’m going to pull in long enough to see if their shavings are still there.

Maybe instead of sitting in the courtyard of the Matthews Methodist church, this generation is sitting in front of a virtual checkerboard playing against someone a thousand miles away.