9/04/2006

Puzzlin' Evidence

The table that I grew up resting my elbows on was a big round table that had 2 leaves that stretched it into the shape of a hockey rink. Most of the time, it stayed in that configuration because there were 9 of us kids and of course Ma and Pa Kettle. Apart from the need of putting food on that table, it was almost imperative that my dad work 16 hour shifts, we needed the space.

The surface of the table had flour ground into it while Mom made bread, convened many lively discussions and was privy to its its share of arguments. Oh and there was always spilled milk to contend with. The issue was not whether someone would cry over it but whether the milk would seep through the tablecloth and get all over what was underneath.

You see, my mother's main hobby when she was busy trying not to kill one of us was doing jigsaw puzzles. The puzzles were usually bought second hand at rummage sales and were standard depictions of land or seascapes, sometimes a covered bridge or a winter scene. They generally were 500, 750 or 1000 pieces.

Anytime she was doing a puzzle was a good time to approach Mom. If you needed a question answered or just wanted some company, she seemed more at peace then. I guess she had something to concentrate on that didn't involve all the usual troubles of the day.

She had a way of getting you involved in helping her try out at least a handful of pieces in about a hundred different spots while you talked or passed away some time. Now and then, you'd fit a piece in and feel proud. She'd praise you but tell you to keep at it.

As it neared dinner time, the worn tablecloth covered the work in progress and it was time for the real puzzling to begin. It took a keen eye or sometimes a lucky guess to figure out what those charred things were on our plates before Mom had gone to work on them in the kitchen. Apart from her excellent baking and jigsaw skills, Mom was a terrible cook. To this day, she insists on everything being cooked until it's very well done.

A few years ago, I received a puzzle as a gift that pictured Van Gogh's Starry Night and it made me think of walking round and around that big table as a child helping Mom fit the pieces of her puzzles together.

I sat down and started in on mine. Although small, it was tricky with the colours and design and I was rusty. Of course, I started with sorting all the end pieces to make the frame the way Mom had imprinted as the only way to do it.

As I got closer to the end of my puzzle, I laughed to myself remembering on occasion when Mom and I were in the home stretch and trying to fit the last few pieces into our second hand puzzles, we'd find that there was a piece missing. I'd be so disappointed but my mother would just exclaim Well would you look at that!? Oh Dale! and then she'd laugh and break it all up and put it back in the box ready for the next one.

When I got to the end of my puzzle, I was very surprised to find that there were more pieces than spaces. I actually had an extra piece leftover. I burst out laughing and called my mother. She couldn't believe it. She said Oh Dale! just the way she used to and asked Do you remember all the times we needed an extra piece when we'd do those puzzles on the kitchen table?! Oh my Lord!.

We shared a nice laugh over it and I was glad that it was a nice memory for her too.


Click to enlarge. The extra piece is in the upper right and seems to go with the puzzle. Anyone need it?

20 comments:

jin said...

OMG! 9 kids? Did you say....
9 k i d s ???

I just lost my whole train of thought.
I can't even comment on the rest of the post now.
I may have nightmares.

Old Lady said...

Oh dear, you poked my heart and out flooded memories. My ma and her jigsaws. Does your Ma have about a million of them? My mother put the pieces in Ziploc bags with a pix in the bag for the legend of the puzzle. It made more room for her to store and buy more to do.

Dale said...

It's my mother that's still tired Jin, you should have an okay sleep. Yes, I'm the 8th of 9 children and of course, the only worthwhile one of the bunch. Imagine how effed up they are!

That's sweet Old Lady. Actually you reminded me that some of them found their way to bags just as you described. Some seemed to be kept while others got passed on or trade and such.

NYCbeauty said...

That's a wonderful, and well-written story. I have poignant memories like that of my mom... she's a crossword fanatic and now I am too. Some weekends, I take the subway uptown and we work the Sunday Times puzzle together. It's has always bound us and still does.
xo
jw

X. Dell said...

My mom did a lot of those jigsaw puzzles too, and my memories of doing them are similar to yours.

I no longer need extra pieces. What you need is one more piece. That way the two pieces can get together and, if they like each other, start a whole new puzzle.

Mob said...

My grandmother's table was constantly taken up with a jigsaw puzzle, she lived next door to us when I was a child, and I can recall spending many summer afternoons trying to help her build a bridge or some European Cathedral that she was trying to piece together.

Wow, I feel ten again, it's interesting how the memories seem to hover just beneath the surface.

You should see what you can get on eBay for the extra piece; someone, somewhere is tearing out their hair in frustration over that very same piece.

Ben Heller said...

9 kids !!
Your mum never had time for jigsaw puzzles I bet !

It must be a triumph to have one piece too many rather than one short. All the concentration and effort seems wasted if you're one short.

Beth said...

You must be blessed, Dale, to end the day with an extra piece. Good for you!

sKincarver said...

So far I have only sired 5 younguns.
It feels weired typing this, but I am in awe of your father's sperm.

In the small town I grew up in, it was fairly common to see puzzles lacquered, framed and hung on the wall. Draw your own conclusions.

Coaster Punchman said...

Maybe it's a dupe. Did you compare it to all the other pieces to try to figure out which one?

This is the kind of thing I would lose sleep over.

Beth said...

BTW, Dale, you told the story very well.

Marni said...

My kids and I are into puzzles right now. We work on one every night and it amazes me how my son - who has ADHD - will sit still and concentrate on that picture.

It feels good to know that my kids will have the same memories as you.

BTW - I use the baggies, too! I laughed out loud at that one. It is the only way to keep all the pieces together!

Melinda June said...

Excellent story, dale.

When I was little my grandmother had a stroke. She lost a lot of mobility, but her mind was sharp. She did puzzles all the time because they challenged her and didn't require both hands. I'd love it when she let me help her. She used to tell me that the extra piece was lucky, and when we found one I'd get to keep it as a charm. Somewhere in my parents' basement there is a baggie of unmatched extra puzzle pieces, waiting to grant me barbie dream houses and dates with Scott Baio.

Dale said...

Thanks Jen, I appreciate the comment considering how much I enjoy the way you tell a story. Sadly, I don't have a whole lot of poignant in me so I'll have to think hard. I've got some juicy ones to draw on though so stay tuned.

X. Dell, funny how some things strike a chord isn't it. Are you suggesting puzzle fornication under my roof?

Mob, it was nice to hear you get sentimental there for a minute but then close with a parting money shot. :-)

She's still tired Ben but believe it or not, she found time to do them apart from all her good deeds with the Church.

I guess I was Beth. It felt strange and good, like a lot of life.

Apparently, he's a machine Skincarver. By the sounds of it, you're doing your part to achieve machine status too. I saw a few of those lacquered puzzles up on walls too, but thankfully none at my place.

It's a dupe for sure CP. I'm pretty sure it fits the puzzle but the colouring makes it difficult to just pick out which one it matches. If you'd like, I'll send the whole thing to you?

Beth, what are you doing here again? Thanks very much.

Hi Marni, any good quality time seems to pop up later on in the form of warm memories so that is nice. Glad you got a laugh out of it too!

Thanks very much Melinda June. Your comment was so sweet and then you got me at the end there. Excellent!

Tanya Espanya said...

I don't know what's better, your great stories that make me want to weep (I'm an easy cry, shaddap) or the great comments your little friends leave - I'm dying over here, people!

It almost makes me want to continue my own crummy little blog...But then I get distracted and go on a trip instead.

Dale said...

I can only vouch for the comments people leave Tanya. I love my commenting bloggo types as you do. They're a funny smart bunch.

I like the writing but a good trip is nice too! Take me somewhere.

Angela said...

Awww, what a sweet and well-told story. As for the extra piece, I heard that cardboard soaked in brine and dried tastes remarkably like beef jerky. Food (and puzzle piece) for thought.

Dale said...

Thanks Angela...I'm soaking my piece right now. Did that come out right?

Angela said...

Soak your piece until it smells appetizing. Then give it a lick if you can.

Dale said...

You're disgusting and I love you for that.