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.