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Life Lessons from Grandmaw's Jigsaw Puzzles - Non-Fiction Short Story

Grandmother must have gotten us into the jigsaw ritual.

Grandmother must have gotten us into the jigsaw ritual.

Jigsaw puzzles have always held some fascination for me. There was perpetually one in various stages of completion, on a card table, in the corner of our family room. From time to time, someone would stop, study, and try a piece here or there. Maybe one would fit into a spot, which might lead to another, and suddenly whoever stopped by “just to see if that one would fit” would find themselves fully engaged. Other times one of us would stop, study and try first one piece and then another without success. Frustrated, we would move on to another activity and leave the stubborn pieces for another time.

Grandmother must have gotten us into the jigsaw ritual; she too had her own card table and puzzle sitting in her living room. She would finish the dinner dishes, and while Granddad watched his various T V shows, she would sort, ponder, and place the puzzle pieces together, bringing the picture closer and closer to completion.

When I was very young I loved to watch Grandmother “work her puzzles.” She would get the box out and carefully remove the lid and begin sorting. First all the pieces with one smooth side were separated.

“These are the border edges,” she would tell me.

Next, she would sort them by color. Sometimes she would let me help. I loved this part; all the beautiful colors and funny shapes were placed in little piles. Solid colors first from light to dark, next came the ones with lots of colors in them.

“What is the main thing you see on the piece?” she would ask.

Maybe it was a blade of grass or the petal of a flower, so we would sort them out by what we saw.

After all the sorting, it was time to start putting the puzzle together. All the pieces with the smooth sides - the border pieces - were linked together. There may be three or four that looked like the sky or the grass. Grandmother would place them in the general vicinity of where they might go. As she worked, linking more and more pieces together, they began to form a chain. As the chain became larger, the puzzle began to take shape.

“It looks like a fence,” I told her.

She smiled in agreement and added, “We have to build the fence so all the other pieces can’t get out. If they get out, they might get lost and then we would have no picture.”

We never started the picture until the fence was built. I always got to put the corner pieces into the fence; the ones with two smooth sides.

The shapes were always funny too. Some had big bumps and little indentions that were cut so that only one other piece fit. If you found the right one it slid together smoothly. Sometimes the piece would almost fit, but you knew it really wasn’t the correct one. If I got tired or frustrated because I couldn’t find the right piece I would give it a little push with my fingers and try to “make” it fit.

Grandmother would always chide me , reminding me that each peace had its place and could only fit in that one place.

“If you try to make it fit where it doesn’t belong the picture won’t turn out right,” she would say.

As I got older, I began to realize how much I learned from those jigsaw puzzles.

Fences are Everywhere

Just as we started with the smooth pieces and built a “fence” to give the puzzle its shape or boundary, our world is full of boundaries. We all live within the boundaries, rules and laws, of our jobs, schools, cities, counties, states and even our countries. These “boundaries” provide safety, order and security in our world.

Imagine if there were no rules to follow at your workplace or in your school. If everyone did whatever they wanted, however they wanted, whenever they wanted, it would not make for a very productive environment.

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And what if no one followed the laws set forth for driving cars in your city or town? What if people were going whichever way they wanted, on whatever side of the street they wanted, going as fast as they wanted, and never stopped at stop signs or traffic lights? What a chaotic and dangerous place it would be! I think you get the idea.


Each person is different and unique

No two fingerprints on any person in the entire world are the same. Everyone is a unique person unto themselves; even identical twins are unique in their own way. People have their own ideas, dreams, goals and ways of achieving them. Yes, there are people who share similar beliefs, ideals, and moral foundations. Although these people tend to gravitate toward one another and may join a particular political party, be affiliated with a like-minded church, or other organizations, each one is still a unique individual.

In the same way, each piece of a jigsaw puzzle is unique and has its own special beauty. Some are brightly colored, while others are plain and blend amid the others. There are the ones that hold some hidden clue to the rest of the puzzle, some tiny speck of something much bigger you just can’t quite figure out.

Each person in the world is as unique and individual as each puzzle piece. There are the flamboyant people who bring electricity with them everywhere they go. You may know quiet and shy folks that are hardly ever noticed and people with gifts and talents of all kinds. There are highly intelligent people and those of average intelligence, each individual and unique.

Everyone has a purpose and a place

In every jigsaw puzzle I have ever put together, each puzzle piece has only one place that it fits. It may look like it fits elsewhere, but it doesn't take long to figure out when it’s in the wrong spot. With all the pieces put together in the correct places you will see the beautiful picture that is formed by all the little individual and unique pieces. If even one piece is out of place, you know in an instant that there is something wrong with the picture.

I once started a jigsaw puzzle and had the most difficult time trying to get the pieces to fit together - even the border pieces seemed all wrong. Before long, I figured out that several puzzles had been mixed together in one box. What a mess! There was no way to sort out the pieces and put even one together, so I had to throw it all away.

Every person in the world has a specific place and purpose. The difficult part is figuring out what that purpose is -and for some- where they belong. Some people know from a young age, “what they want to be when they grow up”, while others struggle through college and on into adulthood. Eventually they will find their purpose and place. They become teachers, bank tellers, doctors, lawyers, cooks, postal workers, pilots, etc. They make up the picture of our towns, cities, countries and our world.

Still there are those who never quite find their place or purpose in life. They wonder about, trying to fit in here or there but never quite make the fit. Unfortunately, they are like the box of mixed up puzzle pieces. We all scratch our heads and wonder what we can do; for we know they were made to fit together somewhere.

The world is like a jigsaw puzzle made of many pieces placed together. Each piece beautiful and unique in its own way; each piece made to join together perfectly creating a beautiful picture.

I’m so glad my grandmother taught me so much about life as we put those jigsaw puzzles together.

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© 2010 miss_jkim


miss_jkim (author) on August 20, 2012:

Thank you missingpiece, nice to know we are in such good company.

miss_jkim (author) on August 06, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your unique business. For many years we would put together puzzles and then cover them with "puzzle Coat" which kept them together and made beautiful pictures to hang in our family room.

I've noticed that my Dr. does the same thing in his office. Puzzles are such a fun family activity. It was always a stress reliever; as well as, a way to keep the mind sharp.

miss_jkim (author) on July 13, 2010:

Maybe we should get back to these kinds of family activities Nell.

I not only learned about life, but so much about my grandmother and grandfather. We had such sweet times together and I think young people miss out on so much with the fast pace of life and, sadly, the over load of technology.

I'm glad you enjoyed it and thnks for the boost!

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on July 13, 2010:

This is one of the loveliest hubs I've read in awhile. I'm going to read it again but just had to tell you how much I like it. I remember the card tables with the jigsaw puzzles in process in homes 'back then'.

It was an amusement and activity which could be done much or little by one and all. No one claimed possession of it or tried to "outdo" anyone else, though each person got a feeling of accomplishment out of getting one or more pieces in place, especially those with tiny pieces, many the same color almost and many almost the same shapes!

Before TV such an activity was especially valuable for a family. Your lessons gleaned from your very smart Grandmother's careful sorting & planning the pieces is intriquing too.

Sometimes I do online jigsaws just for fun and I always sort the "border pieces" first and put them together. Various ways of sorting the other pieces are fun to try. Thanks for reminding me - I haven't done one in ages!

Anyway - I very much like this and am rating it up!!

miss_jkim (author) on July 12, 2010:

Wow WildIris, you must love a challenge! But they are fun and you feel like you have accomplished something when you complete one.

We used to use something called "puzzle coat" and glue ours together and mount them. Made for some interesting conversation pieces too.

Thanks for the comment.

WildIris on July 12, 2010:

So true, puzzles are a bit like life. My daughter and I stumbled into a game store that had the most amazing puzzles we've seen. Puzzles that were spheres and 10,000 piece puzzles with each piece the same shape and configuration. We wanted to buy at least 10, set up two tables somewhere in the house and devote our idle hours of winter to puzzle building. Thanks for the wonderful Hub.

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