The joy of puzzling

Photo by Barbara Ellis

Is it true? Do I see a sliver of light at the end of this COVID-19 tunnel? The light is not a mirage, and yes, I do see a little bit of normalcy returning to our lives.

I say that because in my building we are once again beginning to put Jigsaw Puzzles together. Sadly, we are missing our Ace puzzler, Alan. We would be staring at the scattered puzzle pieces on the table, searching for that allusive one, when Alan would come by. He would stare at the table for a few minutes, and then magically find the right piece and plunk it into place.

How long has it been since I started this wonderful hobby? Guess it is over seventy years ago when I received my very first puzzle. When we lived in Switzerland, I became ill and was bedridden for weeks with rheumatic fever. During those endless days, I had very little to occupy me. A few colouring books, my doll Daisy and an active mind that created fantasies of playing outside, or going on a picnic in the mountains. Then one day, I was presented with a little puzzle. It was only four inches by three inches and is a picture of some mountains, a few trees and a chateau on a lake.

The picture was glued onto a small wooden panel which was then carefully and meticulously carved into twenty-four odd-shaped pieces. Right from the start, I was smitten with this new hobby, putting it together, taking it apart, and then doing it all over again. I was never tired of the repetition.

I can’t believe that I still have this puzzle, not only the puzzle, but the cellophane paper envelope it came in. During that time, I could read and write in French, but not anymore. However, I can still translate some of the words written on the envelope; “Un passe-temps agreable”, or, passing time agreeably.

This little puzzle is very old and certainly well-travelled. It has moved with me from Europe to Australia to Canada and to all the many moves I have made in this country. Sadly, during one of those moves, two of the pieces have gone missing. Now that I have the puzzle in my hand again, I am going to figure out a way to secure and bind all the pieces together. It would be a shame if, after all this time, more of the pieces vanished.

It is impossible to estimate how many hours, in those seventy years, I have spent puzzling. I usually start by finding and joining all the border pieces. Then, I sort the same-coloured pieces into small piles, this makes it easier to assemble the emerging picture. When that is done, it is just a matter of manipulating the oddly shaped pieces with my fingers until I find their rightful place in the puzzle.

My cat loved puzzling! When she jumped up on the table, she was immediately attracted to the small piles I had organized.

One by one, she began to paw the pieces off the table. Eyes twinkling and purring loudly, she watched with great interest as each piece tumbled to the floor. I did not mind her enjoying herself, but when she began to nibble on the pieces, I had no choice but to put an end to her game.

Many of my friends have also enjoyed spending their spare time assembling puzzles. My neighbour, for one, always had a puzzle on the go in her TV room. The two of us would spend hours around that table, sipping tea, eating her homemade biscuits, trying hard not to let the crumbs fall onto the table. We did not talk much. Words were not necessary. Fierce concentration on the task at hand was more important. We toiled in harmony as piece by piece, the picture in front of us slowly took shape and came into view.

During these past few months, I have used my computer to put puzzles together. It has become my morning ritual. Coffee in hand, I stare at the screen trying to decide which puzzle to work on first. Every morning there is at least one scene that takes me back to places I have visited. It is a little like going on a mini-vacation. Back to Venice, Switzerland, or Holland or any of the other wonderful places I have visited.

Working on puzzles have filled countless empty hours in my life. Years ago, when I moved to Cranbrook and didn’t know anyone, Jigsaw Puzzles were a way of getting through the evening. With only one channel on my TV, reading and taking walks were not enough to pass the time so I would immerse myself in a puzzle.

To this day, whether I am putting pieces together on my computer screen, or physically holding tiny pieces of cardboard in my hand, the fascination has not left me. I am not alone in this. The news on one of Calgary’s TV channels featured a man who had put together enough puzzles to panel his basement wall. He looked very pleased with himself and so he should. I can’t remember how many puzzles it took to paper that wall, but it looked fantastic. Good for him! Time well spent!

This is one pleasure I can enjoy and participate in for the rest of my life. Great news when I think of how many things I have already had to give up.