Tag Archives: Puzzles

Courage at Twilight: Puzzles (Episode #365)

The city I have worked in for 30 years and lived in for 25 years just celebrated the 170th anniversary of its 1853 incorporation. And it did so with a puzzle, or rather, a painting, made into a puzzle, six thousand puzzles actually.  My boss, the mayor (the fifth mayor I have worked for), commissioned a popular local artist to compose a folk painting of the city—Tooele City—and its history, landmarks, geography, and people.  The painting’s “reveal” took place at a community birthday party.  Six hundred people came.  Dowdle, the painter and puzzle-maker, finds in puzzles a metaphor for cohesive community.  When assembling a 500-piece puzzle, people immediately notice even one missing piece, especially one missing piece, and that one piece is missed by all the other 499 pieces.  Until all 500 pieces are found and fitted together, the picture is not whole.  In a similar way, every member of a community is important, whether an edge piece, a piece splashed with bright color, or a non-descript background piece.  Each one is key to the complete whole.  He wept suddenly at the mention of a 14-year-old who fell through the ice and drowned at the local reservoir, the reservoir in the painting, despite heroic first responders’ efforts, and how sorely that single person in the community puzzle is missed.  As the celebration ended, my granddaughter Lila (3) waived her tiny American flag, and we ate red velvet and buttercream birthday cake, and I bought Dowdle puzzles, puzzles depicting our unique community.  Mom and Dad wanted to hear all about the anniversary celebration, and I presented to her the Tooele City puzzle, in a box, a box we opened, a box filled with 500 pieces we spread on the card table, pieces we began to fit together.  I can work at puzzles for short periods only.  Long stretches make me tired and cranky and tax my eyes and my patience.  “I need to be done, Mom.” I complained.  “We’ll finish it tomorrow, okay?”  Arriving home from work the next day, I saw Dad’s wheelchair in the garage, and I uttered a silent “uh oh” and walked through the doorway into the house.  “Do you want to hear about our day’s misadventures?” Mom asked with a wry chuckle.  Mom had decided it was a good day for a hamburger, fries, and a coke, and she decided to ask Dad if he wanted to come along, and he decided to come along.  My 83-year-old mother brought him the wheelchair and helped him transfer in, then pushed him over the door frame hump, down the short ramp, and down the long ramp.  I have been amazed at the heavy pull of gravity on an occupied wheelchair from a height of only one foot, and the strength needed to counter that force and keep the wheelchair and its occupant from running wildly away.  Today the chair pulled hard at Mom, and she shuffled quickly down the long ramp to avoid being pulled over and dragged behind Dad and his chair before it would tumble into the pine shrubs.  “I told myself to just hang on!” she recounted.  Then came the ordeal of getting Dad into the Mighty V8, the faithful Suburban he can no longer drive, and later out of the said Mighty V8 and up the stairs into the house (she could not push him up the ramps).  The outing could have gone terribly wrong for them both.  But the outing did not go terribly wrong, and Dad enjoyed the drive, looking fondly at the wispy clouds and the blue sky and his beloved white-capped Wasatch mountains.  After dinner, Mom and I finished the puzzle, not just any pastoral or puppy puzzle, but the puzzle depicting the community where I have lived and worked for three decades, where we birthed and reared our children, where my marriage thrived and wilted and died, where I fought 30 years of battles giant and small to safeguard the public interest, to protect the taxpayer, to improve quality of life, and to repulse the greed and entitlement of developers and others who blame my town for their problems.  I wondered if the puzzle box had included all 500 pieces, or if any pieces had slipped off the table and under the couch.  To my relief and delight, the complete image came together, whole, with every piece present and contributing to the picture.

(Pictured above: Mom and my son and daughter-in-law working on Dowdle’s Best in Utah puzzle.)

Getting ready for the celebration: 400 chairs.


Artist Eric Dowdle and the giant show puzzle of Tooele City.


My boss, Mayor Winn, and the original Dowdle painting of Tooele City.


The City Council (my other five elected “bosses”) and the Mayor, with the artist.


The Dowdle “Best in Utah” puzzle: making progress.


The completed 500-piece “Best in Utah” puzzle.

Courage at Twilight: Moving Pieces

Mom and I started a puzzle. 500 pieces.  It came in the gift basket delivered by the caroling young women from church.  It is a pretty puzzle of a nature scene, in the mountains, tinged with the scarlets of early fall.  Warm and pleasant, a reassurance during our freezing dirty-snow urban winter.  Mom separated out the edge pieces and starting making matches.  I managed to frame the border during a Father Dowling mystery episode (which I handle so much better than NCIS for the 1990s absence of violence and gore).  During a dinner of creamy chicken vegetable soup, Dad obsessed about the bitter cold and how during their first winter here 24 years ago a pipe burst in the basement for lack of insulation (the contractor’s helper had run out of insulation and had left the pipe exposed and the contractor now had to come back and fix the pipe and fix the ceiling and fix the wall, plus add the insulation that would have prevented the whole disaster) and how this year he did not have the strength to wrap the house hose bibs like he has done every year before and how they were exposed and how he hoped they would not freeze and crack and he wondered how far into the house zero degrees could penetrate and could zero degrees reach the basement pipes and burst them again?  Seeing no point in discussing the matter, I dressed in a heavy coat, strapped on a headlamp, and left the house armed with a stack of thick rags, plastic shopping bags, and neon-green duct tape, trapsing through deep snow to wrap the faucets—we all hoped this precaution would be sufficient, noting that the faucets were already anti-freeze hose bibs.  “You have set my troubled mind at ease,” Dad smiled thankfully.  Needing to rise at six the next morning, I said good-night at ten and bent to bed.  But I often wake at 12:30 in the morning to the sounds of Dad’s effort to transfer from the stair lift to the wheelchair, and Mom’s efforts, in her long cotton nightgown, to push the chair to the bed, Dad helping what little he can, and their talking, and sometimes their bickering over him issuing instructions she was already following.  I can tell from the tone if my help is needed, when I throw on my bathrobe and respond.  So long as he maintains his night-owl lifestyle (granted, he no longer reads until three in the morning), I cannot be the one to help him get to bed.  A routine of caregiving until 1:00 a.m. then rising at 6:00 a.m. daily would destroy me, probably in only two days’ time.  Thankfully, the CNA assists Dad in the mornings after I have left for work.  She knows to use the wheelchair to get Dad from the bed to the shower, to use the heavy-duty seated-walker to get him dried off and to the couch for dressing and to the stair lift to descend for breakfast and a day’s reading.  That is what he can do: read and read and read.  And too quickly the time comes to prepare another dinner worthy of them and the legacy they leave, perhaps lemon chicken on a bed of pesto couscous, or Hawaiian chicken on a couch of coconut rice (my favorite), or stewed spicy chicken and dirty rice, or, on occasion, beef franks sliced into canned pork and beans.  The puzzle beckons after dinner is cleaned up.  I stare at 500 unconnected pieces, feeling totally intimidated, knowing I can never find two matching pieces in that chaotic morass of 500, then somehow forming the border and slowly fitting together the interior, until the puzzle is done, and I am astonished and wondering how it happened.  So many pieces.  So many moving pieces.