Piecing Things Together
Forrest Gump compared life to a box of chocolates. I’m a chocolate lover (especially when it’s covering nougat), but I disagree. I think life is more like a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces—1,000 lopsided segments, odd-shaped bits and unfamiliar parts. Some pieces are smooth and easy to recognize; others are downright jagged and unwieldy. You know it’s going to take awhile to figure out which side is up. Like many moments in life, puzzles start out a jumbled mess, but with consistent effort, piece-by-piece, it all comes together. Fun, frustration and unexpected surprises intertwine as the fuzzy picture comes into focus.
I’ve been a jigsaw puzzle aficionado since I was a teen. You’ll find one–in various stages of completion–atop my dining room table. I keep it corralled on a sheet of foam core board for easy relocation to a coffee table when it’s time to eat. Visitors–family and friends—are familiar with my loosely enforced 10-piece minimum. Before kicking up their feet, getting a snack out of the fridge or changing the TV channel, they’re invited to make a puzzle contribution. After all, we’re in this together.
My three sons grew up with jigsaw puzzles in their midst, but only two share my puzzle passion. The oldest, Shawn, displays remarkable patience as he methodically matches pieces to the correct opening. He likes to work in quadrants. Youngest brother Seth declares his preference to work in silence, not appreciative of the ongoing banter between Shawn and me during the puzzle-resolving process. Middle son, Jake, doesn’t work at all. He’s a puzzle-giver, opting to gift them rather than complete them. Thanks to Jake, hours have been spent reconstructing movie posters, scenes from TV sitcoms, carousel horses and, my favorite, the impossible sea of dice. All were challenging, but not as dangerous as the puzzle my friend, Robin loaned me—a plate of Oreos. Ten days, three empty cookie bags and two pound later, it was complete. When I returned it, traces of black cookie crumbs that had fallen from the corners of my mouth were mixed in with the pieces.
Our family comes from a strong line of mystery solvers and puzzle-doers. When my sons were little, their grandfather, Tom helped them complete their 100-piece pre-school puzzles, insisting they put the frame together first. An engineer by trade, Pop never consulted a dictionary as he solved newspaper crosswords in ink–a feat I’ve never attempted. We still follow Pop’s frame-first jigsaw puzzle tradition. I think he’d forgive us the occasional slip when eager hands finish a section before all the edge pieces have been ferreted out.
Not only are jigsaw puzzles a spontaneous, ongoing way to spend snippets of quality time together, they can aid in untangling some of life’s quandaries: Why does the Internet disconnect when the house phone rings? How can I camouflage the leftover meatloaf? What’s that weird hissing sound in my bathroom? Often, answers don’t come easily. Instead of racking my brain, I work puzzles. In the quiet early morning, under the bright illumination from my skylight, my brain clears while I make sense out of a jumble of pieces. Previously unrelated colors and shapes slowly form a cohesive picture. Remarkably, other life concerns find their solutions as I search for edge pieces or one that resembles a shamrock.
Sprinkled among this season’s holiday cookie baking, present wrapping and tree trimmings, will be Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzle-solving. I can’t wait to open the classics we work each year like the Norman Rockwell holiday montage or Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. With holiday busyness surrounding me, puzzles are a delightful break from the frenzied action. They’re my pause in the midst of competing deadlines.
I’ve learned my lesson, though. This December, when I’m shopping for a new puzzle to add to the collection, I’ll bypass the lids picturing gingerbread men, candy canes and chocolates. I’m sticking with peaceful, joyous, festive images–snowmen, carolers and angels–whose charms won’t compromise my waistline.