Late spring 1976.
New Jersey is named the Garden State and traveling all over that state convinced me that the title is appropriate and well earned. Everything was in bloom. We ate many delicious fruits and vegetables grown there.
I was in a "Chess period" then. The game overwhelmed me and I thought of little else. Relationships foundered as I tried floating my gaming skills to the ever distant shores of achievement. I was a driven man, never satisfied with a cursory understanding. I subscribed to anything in print about Chess. Chess books on shelves, tables, floors and in heaps on the bed beckoned me to return and explore further.
It was Chess that encouraged me to see more of New Jersey. I played in tournaments in Tom's River, Orange, Asbury Park, New Shrewsbury, Monmouth, Freehold, Trenton and dozens of other places along the Atlantic seaboard. I didn't always win, but always tried to. Still, I learned more from games I lost.
On one of our trips, we found ourselves in Camden where the main attraction was International Grandmaster Pal Benko. He was renowned as the King of the endgame. He also spawned the opening gambit bearing his name. I wanted to meet him and get him to autograph his book for me. In this I succeeded, but we never had opportunity to play one another. The tournament was tightly scheduled and I needed to look after my precious daughters, Erika and Kristin.
Kristin and Erika were such sweet little girls. I confess to using them at times to meet individuals whom my own shyness would not allow me to approach. Their exuberance was as endless as their laughter was contagious. Although 18 months apart by age, many mistook them for twins. In many respects, they were twins, although we puzzled that anyone confused their appearance. Their demeanor, their laughter, their whimsical smiles and sparkling eyes were nearly identical. Still, Kristin had brown hair and Erika blonde. Kristin's facial features were mostly my family's, while Erika resembled more her Peterson heritage. Erika was as fair-skinned as I and Kristin shared her mother's wonderfully tannable complexion. Both were intelligent, generous, playful and loving. Inquisitiveness is perhaps the trait that I most enjoyed about them.
We spent many hours learning the alphabet, to read and to spell. By the time we reached Georgia the next January, they were more prepared for school than any of their classmates. Ah, but that is another story, albeit full of varied experiences. What I wish to remember for you here is one of those learning experiences that greatly affected me. . .far beyond them.
During the lunch break at the Camden Chess tournament we stopped at a fruit stand and tasted their samples. I don't recall exactly what we ate, but I'm certain that there were fresh roasted peanuts in one of the sacks. We usually had some fruit-flavoured soda to drink on these trips, too.
As we ate and relaxed, Erika noticed a chrysalis suspended under a leaf nearby. She motioned to Kristin to come look, but be careful. I peered over their shoulders and watched as they placed tentative fingers lightly against the cocoon. I told them that it once had been a caterpillar and would one day become a moth or a butterfly. When they asked, I answered that I couldn't tell which, but perhaps we could find out in the encyclopedia at home.
Kristin said that we could photograph it and compare the image with that in the book. Erika suggested that we take it home in a paper cup and just see for ourselves. And so we did.
On the way home, one of the longest drives in their imagination, they squealed and squabbled over whose turn it was to hold the cup and for how long. Still, they were duly careful with it and we all arrived home intact. When we checked the encyclopedia under butterfly and moth we found both drawings and photographs of cocoons and chrysalii, but none that exactly matched our little specimen. We considered it fortunate that we brought it home with us so we could learn for ourselves what would emerge.
The next day, the chrysalis began to rock—gently at first, then with greater fervor. The girls giggled in delight! We were finally going to learn its secret. Erika had already nicknamed it Chris, which Kristin relished. Years later, Kristin would return the gesture, naming her first daughter, Erika.
We watched for over an hour as the sides of the chrysalis bulged and contracted. Kristin was getting impatient. Erika had to use the bathroom, but didn't want to miss anything. I think I enjoyed watching them more than the delicate movements on the leaf.
Finally, a small break in the little shell appeared. Something was trying to burst forth. A tiny feeler (or was it a leg?) protruded and then pulled back in. The cocoon shook further and appeared ready to dislodge itself from the leaf. The aperture did not widen any further after another half hour passed. We adjusted the angle of the leaf allowing gravity to assist the process. More time went by without any progress.
"Maybe it's stuck," said Kristin. We conferred and decided to help the little guy by opening the chrysalis a little more with a razor blade. Ever so gently I edged the blade near the hole trying to relieve the stress. I managed to widen the gap somewhat, but the creature still could not free itself. I nervously tried again and this time managed to split the shell sufficiently. What fell out of the chrysalis was not what we had expected.
A half-formed insect (I couldn't tell if it was a moth or butterfly) fell from its housing to the tabletop. It had legs and feelers, but hardly more than the barest of membranes for wings and it oozed a yellow putrescence outside even my experience. It quivered momentarily and then died. Both girls screamed and cried.
I thought they were angry with me for having killed it. We talked about it and I soon discovered this was not so. They knew they could not tame it as a pet or keep it for any length of time. They had wanted to see it live and fly on its way. They were disappointed and sad. As I talked with them about what happened, it occurred to me that this was a learning experience beyond any contrivance of mine.
When we over protect our young, they cannot develop fully. As with the insect, we all need the struggle, the strain, in order to grow. With the striving comes a sense of ownership, an awareness impossible any other way. We can bestow upon our children just so many things, traits and attitudes. However, we must allow them their private struggles without debilitating interference. We should render aid when sought or if it becomes imperative, but often the gift isn't ours to give—it is theirs to take and defend. Look back upon your childhood and remember the struggles that helped develop you and who you became. Although at the time you would gladly have foregone the experiences, today you realize your good fortune in retrospect. Everyone has a chrysalis from which to emerge. Allow it.