by Dan Verner
My dad moved to a local retirement facility over a year ago. We had become concerned about him living alone after my mom’s death and he had several stays in the hospital in the months following. We looked at several and settled on one, and it has worked out well for him. It reminds me of a very quiet upscale hotel. Someone wrote about the silence in such places and found it sad: I think people at that point in their lives don’t need a lot of noise. It’s a very calm place to visit. The people are nice and he has made some friends.
I usually go over to see him once a day. We used to watch Nationals baseball in season, but this year that’s too depressing. Instead, he always has a jigsaw puzzle going. I don’t know if you enjoy jigsaw puzzles or not. I have worked them at various times in my life, usually during holidays when there always seemed to be one spread out on a table. I know this activity doesn’t rank up there with bungee jumping for sheer excitement, but there is something to be said for it. It’s relaxing and challenging and offers mental stimulation. We tend not to talk much and things move at a slow pace, so the jigsaw puzzle helps occupy us and keeps us out of trouble.
My dad says any visitor has to put in at least ten pieces before they leave, and most do. We favor manly pictures of airplanes, trains and cars, but have been known to work puzzles featuring flowers and puppies from time to time.
We joke that we are professional puzzle workers and have numerous strategies to assemble the pictures. We were amused that one puzzle came with directions: assemble frame pieces. Then fill in the picture. That’s what we try to do, and then go for the images that are apparent. After that, we try to match colors, then we try to match shapes. Most of the puzzles are difficult enough that usually we’re reduced to trying every piece in every available space to see what fits.
We also have evolved several guidelines for our puzzling: No fair dropping a piece on the floor if it doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. No trimming pieces off with a knife to make them fit. No forcing pieces by pressing on them several times. And no knocking a table leg out when the puzzle seems hopeless. (This actually happened once, but it was an accident. Really.)
Some of the puzzles are more difficult than others, and even with the pictures, it is difficult to find where the pieces go. The image just looks different when it’s cut into an odd shape and so much larger than the picture on the box. But once it’s fitted into the puzzle, it makes sense. That bit of blue is part of the reflection off a windshield or the red stripe goes right across a uniform sleeve. And when the whole puzzle is done, the picture comes alive in a way that is striking and startling.
Usually when we’re done with a puzzle we take a picture of it and leave it assembled on the table for a few days so anyone who worked on it can see it if they come by. We start on a new one immediately and have an ample supply. I think he got seven puzzles for Christmas, and when we run through those, the place has a nice supply in the dining room.
My dad was quite the jack-of-all trades when he was stronger, constantly engaged in some building project. Just a few years ago we added an extension onto the deck at his house so my mom could get out in her wheelchair. We also put up a shed that had about 10,000 screws involved in its assembly. As time has gone on he has become less able to do projects and so we work on jigsaw puzzles.
As someone who experienced the Great Depression and World War II (China-Burma-India theater at the end of the very long supply line), my dad has remarkable adaptability. Even when he was in rehab for a week following his bouts with pneumonia he did not complain but found something positive in the stay. I am not half so adaptable and so, on this Father’s Day, I salute you, Dad, for who you are and what you’ve done.. I’ll be over this afternoon to work some more on the puzzle.
Following a 32-year career teaching English, creative writing, human relations, American and world civilization, ESOL, computer skills, guitar and song-writing, long-time Northern Virginia resident Dan Verner has produced novels, blogs, columns, devotionals, articles and the occasional poem. Dan serves as vice-president of Write by the Rails and has two published novels, “On Wings of the Morning” and its sequel “On the Wings of Eagle.”