by Anna Arnett
For ‘stocking-stuffers’ this past Christmas, my daughter Kat gave me a couple of 500-word jigsaw puzzles. A warm glow enwrapped me, with memories galore.
I thought of my brother Don and me timing each other with a stopwatch to see how quickly we could assemble the cutout map of the United States. He could do it in almost half the time it took me, but he graciously chronicled my progress. I was probably seven or eight at the time, while he was ten or eleven.
I remember snowy winter evenings on the farm when we’d set up another table in our small kitchen and bring out the only two jigsaw puzzles we had—both cut alike, but so different. One pictured Indians riding bareback at full speed, dust rising from hooves, arrows notched in fully drawn bows aimed at stampeding buffalo. The other showed a beautiful St. Bernard with a small wooden keg suspended beneath his chin, almost smiling in anticipation of his errand of mercy ‘midst the snow in the mighty Alps. We raced to see which team could fit the pieces together first—Mom and Don, or Dad and I. We drew straws to decide teams. Two long straws, two short.
In Japan I was surprised at the cost of a puzzle in the BX, but bought it anyway. The blossoming orchard pictured on the box was too enticing. I discovered it was wooden, not cardboard, and when finished, I could pick it up from any corner, and it would hang together, light visible around every single piece, but still in place. That delighted me.
Almost every Christmas season we’ve had a jigsaw puzzle spread out on the dining table, and I’ve lost countless hours of sleep, refusing to retire until I found just a few more pieces that fit. It took nearly three weeks for us to put together a large nativity scene—with muted colors and no straight edge or corners. When we finally finished, we glued and framed it.
What are the necessary ingredients to jigsaw puzzles? I’d say, clean cuts, good fit, and packaged in a box with the finished picture on the box top. “Pass the box,” constitutes a goodly share of the conversation around a puzzle table, used almost as much as ‘he said’ in a story. My husband claims it’s impossible to put a puzzle together without a picture.
They say nothing is impossible; it just takes longer. Usually though, we like things done immediately, if not sooner. So we like pictures. Think about it. Do any knitters, crocheters, or seamstresses read the instructions first, when choosing a pattern? No, we first look at the picture, then read the instructions. What do builders use? Blueprints. Upon which principles do we build our lives? Billboards with glowing pictures of macho fun? Fluffy clouds which our imaginations can transform into pseudo reality? Fairy tales? Well, sometimes they’re fun, but I’ve learned that lasting joy comes only through following the teachings found in the best ‘box top’ of all—the scriptures. Here we find day-by-day, piece-by-piece, line upon line, the parts that eventually make up a glorious ‘whole.’
I submit that writing is also a puzzle. If I don’t know all the words I want to use, a dictionary is almost always within reach. I even have a ‘reverse dictionary’ that will oft en give me the word to fit the meaning. My computer can usually spell better than I, and if grammar rules are disobeyed, green, squiggly lines appear beneath. Even before computers, I’ve had all the writing ingredients for ages—literally. But it takes a lot more than that to write even moderately well. What it needs is a picture—some kind of an objective, or goal. Some idea of character, problems, solutions, more problems, learning, achieving. You know. An outline!
Or, I can just keep on rambling.