Nick

I found out today, quite by accident, that an old friend passed away. I have been scouring my photos all day, searching for a picture I had of him from several years ago, playing chess with Naters.

I worked in a coffee shop up the street from the monkey's school, right after my divorce. Naters would come to the coffee shop with me at the crack of dawn, and drink hot chocolate while I worked. He was always shy, but slowly got to know all of the regulars who would congregate at the Speedtrap.

And then one day, Nick walked in. Nick was a big bear. No idea how tall Nick was, but he had to have been at least 6'5" or so. A barrel chested big man with a big beard, crazy hair sticking up in every direction, and a booming voice. Nick was a walking example of intimidation, at first glance. When Nick and Tammy walked in that first morning, he walked over to Nate's little corner of the coffeebar. Nate always had a book or two, coloring sheets, and either Mancala or Checkers to amuse himself while I worked. Nick walked right up to him, asked him if he knew how to play chess. I remember Nate being absolutely speechless that this big bear was speaking to him,  and just shaking his head. Nick walked over to a bookshelf, pulled chess pieces down and started to teach Nate chess. I think Nate was so in awe of Nick that he could not even refuse the lesson.

My monkey, before Nick introduced him to chess
Nick continued to teach Nate chess, playing with him several days a week, beating him, letting him win, teaching him strategies. He'd sometimes just play a couple of minutes, if he and Tammy were in a hurry. Other times, he'd play a long game until Nate had to walk to school.  Everyone knew that when Nate needed to walk to school, the coffee and lattes and food had to wait. I would walk him from the coffeeshop across the street and a few feet up, so I could watch him walk into the schoolyard. Over time, Nate and Nick would get so into chess and strategy, that Nick would just walk him across for me, so that Nate could get two or three minutes more of chess. I remember that like yesterday, watching Big Nick and my little bitty Nate walk out of the shop, talking animatedly about the game.

Tammi and Nick bought Nate a chess board for Christmas that year. His very own, solid wood, hand-carved pieces. We still play with that board, six years later. Nate has been given lots of other chess sets, but that is the one that matters. And he learned well from Nick. I manage to beat him every few months, maybe force a stalemate every few weeks.

First chess tourney, Second place in district.
We lost touch with Nick and Tammi as I moved on to a real j-o-b, but I will never forget what a sweet and gentle giant he was with my monkey. Nick taught Nate to be wicked good at chess, but he also taught him that friendship can come from the most unexpected places.

Rest in peace,  Nick Kapusta.

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