We have officially hit the wall, quarantine-wise. We are tired of books, TV and Zoom meetings. Reading the daily newspapers has become hazardous to our mental health. We are even sick of cooking. We spend a great deal of time discussing meals, trying new recipes and attempting to prepare “restaurant quality” dishes. Like everything else, it’s gotten old. My wife recently brought home a new diversion. For the first time in our 40-year marriage, we are working on a jigsaw puzzle.

We have officially become our parents and it’s bringing back some unpleasant memories. The most dangerous gift you could give my dad was a jigsaw puzzle. He had an obsessive personality and wouldn’t shave or get dressed for days. He fiddled with pieces on the dining room table until it was finished. It was worrisome when the family’s breadwinner stopped going to the office.

Later, in their “golden years” my parents worked puzzles together. They purchased murder mystery puzzles at Centuries & Sleuths. My parents not only assembled the puzzle, they solved the whodunit. It was a bonding experience for them, like their nightly games of Scrabble.

Centuries & Sleuths is still selling jigsaw puzzles. Some of their 1000-piece puzzles feature famous paintings. Sales are brisk because there has been a whopping 370 percent increase in people buying jigsaw puzzles since the onset of the pandemic. People like puzzles because they take their mind off the many problems that surround us. They also enjoy creating order out of chaos.

The puzzle we’re working on features a painting of Cobh, Ireland. The harbor is a significant place for my family because this is where they embarked on their journey to America. It’s a 500-piece puzzle and we have completely different approaches to assembling it.

My wife is using the traditional method of tackling the edges first. I’m trying something radically different, sorting the pieces by color. Progress is painfully slow. I have to remain patient because I’m tempted to grab a scissors and make the pieces fit. If I can fit four pieces together, I consider it a good day’s work.

Besides bringing back some bad childhood memories, working on the puzzle reminds me of a tragic character in Citizen Kane. Susan Alexander Kane spends endless days assembling puzzles in their palace of Xanadu. Her life is so empty, with no friends around and her emotionally-distant husband looking on. 

I may be emotionally distant at times, but at least I’m helping with the puzzle. We are comforted by the fact that our puzzle has a “No missing pieces guarantee.” I never trusted those puzzles you’d find at summer cottages. I was sure some of the well-worn pieces had been lost. That would be maddening. It brings to mind what we’ve been through in 2020. Our lives are puzzles … with many pieces missing.

All the plans we made, the trips we booked, and the weddings we were anticipating are missing. There are even people missing, who didn’t receive a proper send-off. The nightlife of Forest Park is missing. Where are all the pieces that attracted us to this town? The parades, festivals and concerts that make this village so lively.

The loss of these pleasures may seem trivial compared to the lives lost, but large sections of our personal puzzles are empty. We are doing what we can to fill these spaces. We take walks and find safe ways to socialize. We are assembling the edges and sorting the colors, so that someday our lives will again be complete.

Now where’s the piece that tops the green steeple? I just had it.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.