Every time I build a jigsaw puzzle, I think of my grandfather Jack. We would go visit my grandparents in Morro Bay, California, at least several times a year. They had a small two bedroom house with hardwood floors that creaked when bare feet walked on them.
There was a hallway closet, too — a strange thing to me, since we never had one. The closet shelves always had stacks of boxes of jigsaw puzzles. The 1,000 piece kind. Then, the boxes were large, and primarily used photographs. Jack always had a lot of lake and mountain scenes, nature scenes set against a perfect blue sky.
Out came the folding card table. He’d set it up in a corner of the living room, near the kitchen.
He’d spread the puzzle on top and flip the pieces one at a time so they were all right side up, then rearrange them by what was on the pieces. We’d help him flip the pieces.
The edges were first. Always first.
He would rearrange them, fitting them together, until he had the frame assembled. Then he would focus on sections, searching for each piece to fit into that section.
People always knew what to get him for gifts: More puzzles. One year he complained. The puzzles were too easy. So my mother went to the stationary store, which was where all the puzzles were sold then, and searched and searched until she found the perfect puzzle. Yes, this would be a challenge for him!
The puzzle was a closeup of a Dole banana. Almost entirely yellow, except for the label in the center.
Jack decided he probably shouldn’t have asked for hard puzzles.
I think about that story, too, when I buy a puzzle. I buy ones with images that catch my eye — images that are vibrant with color. I like the ones with bigger pieces, and especially ones with more unusual shapes. Age makes it hard to see smaller pieces, and I wonder if they were actually that small in the puzzles my grandfather built.
I dump the pieces on the table. As I run them through my fingers and listen to them fall to the table, I think of buried treasure and lost time. The shapes smell of clean cardboard, and are smooth and perfect, as if someone polished them up nice and shiny.
I don’t bother flipping them over. It’s the shapes I look for. I push the pile around, searching for a flat line, an edge. I assemble the edges by the colors, and then look for how the shapes fit together.
And I can feel my grandfather sitting next to me. Edges first.