One of my father’s several talents was putting together jigsaw puzzles. I guess others might consider it his hobby, but he himself would not consider it anything other than arranging five hundred interlocking pieces into a recognizable picture during his free time. I refer to it as a talent, the likes of which exist nowhere in my DNA.
Some of my earliest memories, as well as some of the last ones of my father, involve him hunched over a flat surface that was covered with small, irregular cardboard shapes – along with the box that contained them. Mother and we kids might stop by for a few minutes or an extended stay, but my father was the head puzzler of our family.
Whether on a long-ago Sunday afternoon at the brown card table as a respite from cows and corn or a retirement pastime on a tray in front of his favorite living room chair – between naps – my father followed a routine that resulted in multiple completed puzzles throughout his life.
He began by joining edge and corner pieces to construct a defined border. From there, he referred to the box lid frequently as he isolated colors and organized shapes to complete section after section. And then came that moment when he dropped the last piece into place. Ah, what a sense of satisfaction!
Of course, perfection was not always achievable in the Scott household. Tiny, on-the-move figures, of the children or grandchildren type, were known to wreak occasional havoc on his progress. A more common family puzzle bugaboo: missing pieces. Some of his old standbys, puzzles he put together several times, suffered from a gap or two or three. It was not unusual to discover, for unknown reasons, a stray piece from some random puzzle under the couch or buried deep inside our cluttered toy cupboard. My poor father…
In spite of the family aspect of jigsaw puzzles, I rarely joined in. Oh, I managed from time to time to impatiently hook together a couple of flat-edged frame pieces. But I never did possess the requisite focus for recreating a picture so clearly displayed on the box lid. Sometimes I wonder at my nearly identical passion for making thousands of tiny cross stitches to recreate a picture – so clearly displayed with the pattern instructions!
My father preferred traditional scenes of nature, landscapes, farm buildings. He was not particularly interested in reproductions of art or famous national or international landmarks. He had no use for puzzles picturing a close-up of a pepperoni pizza or a box of crayons. In fact, I imagine he might have been a bit insulted by any puzzle in which all five hundred pieces were red or, heaven forbid, offered a picture of a big pile of unrelated jigsaw puzzle pieces.
Once an elderly puzzle aficionado suggested I try putting together a jigsaw picture of spools of thread since I like to sew. She just did not comprehend the depth of my disability nor the extent of my disinterest.
Since then, however, I have envisioned a few scenes fascinating enough to perhaps encourage my participation. Like my father, I would be drawn to box lid pictures depicting any of the four seasons.
A spring scene worth putting together would show our yard on River Road in all its early-calendar beauty: the cherry tree in full, fluffy bloom not far from the lilac bushes. It might be fun to follow a box lid scene to the front of the house for the flurry of forsythia and the flame of the firebush.
For summer, there could be a picture of the rickety bridge across the dry creek bed, although I would more likely choose the scenic perfection of Cliff Baughman’s farm on Route 36, complete with his herd grazing somewhere on the hillside.
Any scene from any apple orchard could appeal to my fall fantasies, but then I can also visualize a box lid featuring a rendition of Kiser Lake, sunlight glinting off water surrounded by that forest of trees in all their autumnal glory.
My father might not have approved, but my winter scene would definitely be swathed in pink. On a frosty fifth-grade morning, our extremely late bus finally emerged from the dense fog that had delayed its arrival. The sun popped over the horizon to bathe midmorning in light that painted the fog clinging to every surface a magical pastel hue – and we walked to the end of the lane through a veritable fairyland of pink.
If I had the option, however, I might be persuaded to do some puzzling on family photographs remade in jigsaw form. There is the frontpage photo of the whole family – minus my brother, who had not yet joined us – as we posed in front of the old library to commemorate National Library Week. The picture of my father’s entire family, from the older adult children clear down to kids and a baby, all in one place at one time, a worn photograph carried for years in his billfold, would be another possibility.
Of one thing, however, I am certain. If there ever existed a picture of my father – at any age – hunched over the brown card table, puzzle piece in hand, box lid at his side, I would work as long as it might take to recreate that precious scene from a jigsaw puzzle box.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.