Holiday Hustle

In January 2017, my husband, Jerry, and I began piecing a jigsaw puzzle together. Seizures had led to his diagnosis of a brain tumor. Though he had skied with our daughter and granddaughters a few weeks earlier, such activity was no longer possible. Now accommodating to life off the slopes, we set up a card table by our wood burning stove and spread out a puzzle titled “Holiday Hustle.”

The 19th-century New England village was a lively place, divided into 500 pieces. Billy Loeb’s Blacksmith & Smelting Shop drew a small crowd. A line formed around the toy store. People with Christmas trees and turkeys filled snowy streets. Released from daily humdrum, shopkeepers waved to each other and matrons in winter bonnets celebrated the end of holiday preparations. Upset ensued as a horse-drawn carriage lost a wheel.

We grew attached to the little figures beckoning. By the stove at odd hours, we’d find each other searching for a piece that had eluded us the previous evening. As we came to the last pieces, we laughed at ourselves for spending so much time with the villagers and agreed we were sorry to tell them goodbye.

As Jerry’s illness gripped him, his interest in puzzles waned. I happened upon the New Yorker’s online jigsaw puzzles, each with 40 pieces. The archive includes every cover since 1925. Obsessively, I clicked the brightly colored pieces into place—a solitary pursuit.

Questions filled my days. What did Jerry’s symptoms indicate? What would be the progression of his illness? How much time did we have together? With puzzles, I could search the pieces until order emerged from chaos. Each click gave a moment of certitude. With hindsight, I realize the online puzzles allowed me to practice life without Jerry.

Jerry passed away in November 2017. With January’s frigid temperatures, my heart goes back to the heat of the stove, the puzzle streets, the pleasure of finding a piece and, most of all, our quiet chatter. I look longingly at the dear little people of “Holiday Hustle” and miss chuckling with Jerry.

Maybe today I’ll set up the card table.