A puzzle of days: the life and legacy of Dad

My Dad loves jigsaw puzzles. Would you believe he’s been working on a puzzle with over 31,000 pieces? If you can spare a few minutes, I’ll tell you the story of Dad’s puzzle.

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The first piece of this puzzle appeared on April 26, 1934. Shaped like a baby, in the color of blue, that’s when it all started. Since that day, thousands of pieces have been added.

Most have an ordinary shape, and in and of themselves do not form a picture. But as each new section of the puzzle is completed, the images start to come together. Now as we gaze at Dad’s puzzle, with so many pieces in place, we can see figures coming to life.

Our first glimpses show a little boy, running through the garden, and chasing chickens around the yard. Then there’s a portrait of a tall and lanky teenager, shooting a basketball in a small Indiana town. Images of a young man, standing beside his father and brothers on the farm, checking the corn, and packing eggs to be delivered; spending time in the backyard on a hot, summer day, slicing up watermelon, and handing a wedge first to his mother, and then to his sister.

We see a figure of this young man sipping on a root beer, leaning over the counter at the Wooden Shoe Lunchroom, smiling at a sweet little waitress behind the counter. And then, in the center of the puzzle, an image of this young man all spiffed up in his Sunday suit, standing next to that sweet girl, his bride.

The puzzle grows from this central photo like flowers in the bride’s bouquet, as the couple blossoms into a family. First one baby girl. Then another. And a third. Finally a boy. And then one more girl. The pieces interlock tightly as the family learns to live together and love each other.

More pieces come together as the children grow, and we can make out the young father, a farmer, running his egg route to the city. He’s taking with him one child at a time, teaching them how to deliver eggs courteously, and make change accurately. Then we see the farmer finding new ways to provide for his family, as he stands in a field of Christmas trees, a pencil in hand, figuring the number of acres it will take to send his kids to college.

As we move to the edges of the puzzle, new faces take shape. Four sons-in-law. One daughter-in-law. Seventeen grandchildren take their place in the puzzle, and even more pieces are added as some of them find their true loves. We see an image forming of the whole family gathered around the piano, singing, on Christmas Eve.

The man at the center of the puzzle is starting to gray. We see the farmer on his tractor, his combine, and his corn picker. We see him growing tired as he works from dawn until dusk cutting and selling Christmas trees. And we delight to see him and his wife spending their golden years fishing, golfing and traveling.

As the masterpiece grows, the newest pieces depict many puzzles within a puzzle, and if we look closely, we can see what is going on. Our farmer now spends his time at home resting, assembling countless jigsaw puzzles, tending his garden, and caring for his wife. Their family has grown to 43 souls. Their love has multiplied over and over, like the puzzle that keeps expanding.

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Dad turned 85 last week. The masterpiece that is his life has taken 31,046 days to build.

31,046 pieces of this amazing, beautiful puzzle. If we look with a magnifying glass, we see some pieces are dark, full of loss, sadness and grief. Others are light, as joy, blessings and abundance flowed.

Dad couldn’t have assembled this masterpiece on his strength alone; he depended on others to help him fit the pieces into place when he was stuck. Friends and loved ones entered the room just as his patience was waning, at times when he felt like giving up; they showed him how to make the pieces fit together perfectly to form another slice of the story.

Each individual piece by itself is nothing special. But edge-to-edge, groove-on-groove, the fragments fall together and the pictures come into view. When we look closely, we see these many vignettes, and the story of Dad’s life unfolds. But as we stand back and gaze at the puzzle from a distance, we see another subtle picture emerging.

The darks and lights mesh together, and the vignettes blend like a mosaic into one large portrait. It is the portrait of a man with his elbows on the table, head bowed and hands folded. He’s talking to his puzzle-Maker; depending on Him each and every day, for every piece entrusted to him; thanking Him as the Maker that fits them into place. And he’s trusting that every piece he needs will be provided, until one day when his puzzle is complete.

Until then, we watch him make new pictures, new memories. Together, we rehash old ones. We laugh. We sing. We care for Mom. We watch Dad’s garden grow.

And we watch his puzzle grow. Day by day, piece by piece. We celebrate and give thanks for our time spent with Dad.

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