I have been plagued by a family tradition that I never started, never encouraged, and that always brought cries of complaint. Every Christmas since my kids were small they took great delight in giving me a “jigsaw puzzle.” It was usually hidden and brought out at the last as a “surprise.” I often thought they had forgotten and that I had gotten away without it, but one of them would disappear for a few minutes and then return with it and a big smile. I would be handed the beautifully wrapped box, but it was easily given away after the first shake.
I would usually put off assembling it for a week or so, but found I couldn’t resist the challenge. Over the years they became increasingly more difficult. Only a couple of times over the decades have I just thrown up my hands and given up.
I never read the official rules to assembling a jigsaw puzzle, if any exist, but my method was to use the picture of the completed puzzle on the box cover as a guide. After first finding the four corner pieces, and then all the straight edges forming the border, I would pour over the picture until I found the location of the tiny piece I held in my hand. It was tedious work at first and I would become extremely frustrated, but gradually the shape began to take place and the picture began to form. At the end things went fairly quickly due to the smaller number of options left.
Then, at last, it would be complete, producing a mixture of exhilaration and emptiness. I could see the replica of the box cover, except for the little lines that formed each individual piece. I sometimes took a picture of it, though I rarely could find those after a few days. I felt like framing it, but it doesn’t impress hanging on a wall. Any adulation or compliments were soon over.
The feeling of emptiness remained. What should I do with it? It pained me to simply break it up and put it in the box after all that effort. Yet that is where it belongs, soon to be forgotten. Should I get another now and begin? That didn’t seem to fill the void. I didn’t think I could summon the emotional energy again, and besides, it wasn’t the same.
So, I waited. I knew this would be repeated, and in spite of pretended agony and protestations, I knew that this ritual was building a closeness and sense of tradition within the family. Each year I wondered, when, from whom, and how hard!
John Fitts is a retired hospital chaplain and a contributor & publisher of Grace Drops. John lives in Palm Harbor, Florida with his artist wife, Patty.
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