I recently inherited two puzzles from when my brother and I cleaned out my mom’s house. One of them was a big red covered bridge. The other may or may not have had a John Deere tractor in it.
Naively I snatched them up, thinking, maybe I’ll actually sit down with my family and we can relax by the fire (j/k, we do have a fireplace but it hasn’t had a fire in it since long before we bought this house some 17 years ago) and put these back together.
But before I let nostalgia completely take over my senses, I thought I should count the puzzle pieces, just to make sure we still had them all. (Right. Like a family of six was going to somehow miraculously keep all the pieces together for over 30 years.)
One day I decided to stop and visit a couple of sisters from my congregation who have Alzheimer’s and now reside in a care center not too far from my work.
I’ve visited Frankie before, but am usually unsure as to whether or not she remembers me. When I go there, Frankie was, apparently, sleeping. But JoAnn, who had just recently moved there, was sitting at a table with another woman putting together a lovely fall scene of a blue pond and golden fall leaves set against a deep blue sky.
I asked if I might join them and they somewhat lukewarm-ly allowed me to pull up a chair.
JoAnn and I talked while the tall, strong woman to my right, who at one point about 20 minutes in sadly asked me, “Have I met you?”
Alzheimer’s is a brutal memory-stealing beast.
No we hadn’t met, but I was impressed with her puzzle-putting-together skills and told her so. Hoping somehow, it was a drop of solace for memories lost.
The three of us kept plugging along at the puzzle. I found corners and edges and tried, gently, to frame the scene in one direction so the familiar directions of top and bottom might guide their attempts to interlock odd-shaped loops and sockets into one another in the hope of discovering a whole picture.
Frankie must have awakened from her afternoon nap and eventually came out to join us. She was not interested in puzzles and was, perhaps, still puzzled over who I was, but she sat down next to us and watched.
And we continued to flip and turn and move tiny pieces and make sense of them.
JoAnn still wasn’t sure where she was. Or how she had gotten there. At one point she was worried about her what had happened to her car. I told her her daughter, Dana, would take care of it for her. And reassured her at least a dozen times, everything would be ok.
And the afternoon wore on.
At one point I had gone through all the pieces searching for corners and edges and come to the horrible realization that pieces were missing.
And somehow the thought of giving an incomplete puzzle to these women with huge gaps missing from their lives. Women who’d forgotten their husbands had died and couldn’t figure out how they’d arrived at this place where no one was coming to get them (so many of the older women I know with Alzheimer’s come to the conclusion that their husband’s have left them for other women, and yet they wait, still hoping for their return). It was a huge cruel twist of fate and I was powerless to correct it.
One day I sat down to count the puzzle pieces from my childhood to make sure they were all there before I searched for a safe place to store them in my already full house.
“About 500 pieces.”
“About 1000 pieces.”
Said the bottom of the boxes.
Making it impossible to ascertain I had all the pieces without attempting to put them together.
I gave in to the futility and threw the puzzles of my childhood into the trash.
[Day 192 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]