22 May 2020

Family Puzzles

I grew up doing jigsaw puzzles with my family. There were puzzles for the whole family that took up a side table or a dedicated board. And there were small puzzles that belonged just to me.

Not only were puzzles part of my family culture but my family had a particular culture when it came to puzzles. I knew families that sprayed completed puzzles with lacquer and hung them, as works of art or trophies. We just disassembled them after a day and a couple of months later brought out another.

One of our strongest family customs, which I credit to my dad, was that we didn’t consult the picture on the box after opening it. We had to build up the picture from memory and the pieces themselves. I didn’t realize how rare this was until I started to participate in the “community puzzle” at my local library and declined to look at the box there.

Together my family got through some fiendish jigsaw puzzles, such as Little Red Riding Hood’s Hood, a circle that was entirely one shade of red. And puzzles got us through a hard time: in the year after my brother died in his twenties, my mother and I did a lot of puzzles silently in the side room.

Five years ago, my dad went to Antarctica. He was in his late seventies, so that was a notable feat. (Since then, he’d been on an Arctic cruise, so maybe not so notable.) He came back with lots of photos to show me on his laptop.

One of those images showed scores of black and white (and orange-beaked) penguins on the slushy gray Antarctic landscape. I looked at that and thought, “That could be a jigsaw puzzle.” A damned hard jigsaw puzzle, to be sure. So I snuck the file onto my thumb drive, sent it off to a company that makes custom puzzles, and gave it to Dad as a present.

This month, four and a half years and one global plague that keeps everyone home later, Dad reported that he had completed the penguin puzzle!

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