I bought a jigsaw puzzle at the grocery store today. The box features an ornate cathedral with red roses and blossoming foliage. The cathedral is in Germany. The puzzle cost two bucks.
My mother and I used to do jigsaw puzzles. Big puzzles. We did them together. I was no good at jigsaws, but she was an expert.
Long ago, puzzles cost seventy-five cents, and provided hours of distraction. We needed distractions back then. We welcomed anything that took our minds off my father’s untimely death, and the gloom that came thereafter.
My mother looked for distractions that made us laugh, things that made us smile, games, puzzles, crafts, or road trips.
Once, she took us to Branson. She took me to see a Dolly Parton impersonator. The show was spectacular. After the performance, the woman in the blond wig hugged me so tight she nearly suffocated me with her enormous attributes.
When my mother saw me locked with the buxom woman, she shrieked and started praying in tongues. She yanked me by my earlobe and drug me away. And I have been a lifelong Dolly Parton fan ever since.
Anyway, my mother loved doing things with her hands. She made large quilts from old T-shirts, she gardened, she did puzzle books, anagrams, crosswords, cryptograms, she knitted, crocheted, and painted.
She played cards with me, sometimes checkers, and she was a Scrabble fanatic. But jigsaw puzzles. Those were our thing.
My mother started each puzzle by saying the same thing:
“We gotta find the corners first, that’s how you do it.”
The idea was that once you found the corners, the rest of the puzzle would come together. Thus, we would sift through twenty-five hundred pieces, looking for four corners. Once we found them, we’d dig for the edges.
We’d place pieces into piles, then link them together. Piece by piece. Section by section. Mama and I could spend a full week on a good puzzle. Sometimes longer.
And we would talk. After all, that’s what puzzle-people do. They talk. My mother would talk about ancestors, tales of childhood, about her mother, about the Bible. And while we concentrated, she would explain life to me.
I remember one day, working on a puzzle. She stopped working. She looked at me. Her eyes were glassy. And there was obviously something she wanted to say. Something important.
She said, “You know, you’re gonna grow up one day, and you’re gonna soar.”
It was a bizarre thing to say. And it was followed by strange silence. I quit searching for pieces. So did she. Her words hung in the air like the smell of bread. She took my hand.
She went on, “One day you’ll forget all the horrible things your daddy put us through, and you’re just gonna soar. Hear me? Soar.”
It was all she said. She removed her glasses and wiped her face. And we went back to searching for puzzle pieces.
I did not think I would do anything with my life. I dropped out of school before eighth grade, I worked pathetic jobs. I once scooped ice cream for a living. That was my actual job. Ice cream.
I threw the newspaper, laid tile, hung sheetrock, pulled electrical wire, drove a commercial mower, and played piano for church choir.
But none of this has ever mattered to my mother. To her, I was flying. She was proud of me no matter what I was, or what I wasn’t. Whether I dug drainage ditches with a serving spoon, or graduated from community college with honors, I was her son.
Today, I dumped a five-hundred-piece puzzle on my kitchen table. I found the corners first. And I thought about the way our lives went.
The day my father took his life, my mother was angry at him. She was angry at the universe for letting it happen. And I was angry with God for letting that happen to her. I wasn’t fuming mad, mind you, but I was sour inside.
But I think I see things more clearly now. Our lives have been one giant puzzle. And maybe that’s how everyone’s life is. The pieces don’t make sense when they aren’t together, but you don’t give up looking. Not ever.
My mother helped me find the corners first. My wife, my family, and my friends helped me find the edges. And so, the twenty-five-hundred-piece puzzle gets put together by an Unseen Hand. And even though it resembles a big cardboard mess before it’s done, it’s no mess. It’s perfect.
I don’t have much to write today. Nothing except to say: sometimes I feel like I am soaring.
I love you, Mama.
Donia D. - May 9, 2022 6:32 am
Thank you for this tribute to your Mama. You don’t write about her often, so it’s nice to know that the two of you do have a special bond. Hold onto those sweet memories and take great care of her. God bless you both.
Larry E. Notestine - May 9, 2022 7:41 am
You’ve been kind enough to let us soar with you too. Thanks, Sean, and thanks to your Mama.
Shirley Robin Ivie - May 9, 2022 9:31 am
Sean you are blessed to have such sweet, heart warming memories of your Mother and the time you spent together. I’m sure she is very proud of her son!
Emily Ray - May 9, 2022 10:19 am
Your mother is with the saints; correction, is one of the saints. So is my mother, my mother in law, my best friends mother…I know they are proud of us as they sing, quilt, work jigsaw puzzles. Thank you sharing your stories and memories, and for reminding us to find the “cornerstones” or living stones in God’s beautiful creation, with the true cornerstone as the foundation for living. Emily, a rolling stone from Alabama now in Virginia.
Beverly - May 9, 2022 10:40 am
Trudy - May 9, 2022 11:30 am
Your Mama, along with all those other women in your life, did a wonderful job of raising you. We, your readers (fans), would like to hear more about your Mama. I know she must be a great lady. I already love her, just like I loved Mother Mary.
beachdreamer - May 9, 2022 11:40 am
You write with your heart, Sean. Your soul always shines through expressing what’s behind the words. Your Mama found more than the corners for you…she built your character and prepared you for life. Or maybe that’s what the corners are. How blessed you were and are to have had such a great Mom, helping you to overcome all the sadness and hurt. You have made your Mama proud…and don’t you forget it‼️❤️
Pamela Williams - May 9, 2022 11:42 am
Sharon Brock - May 9, 2022 11:43 am
Beautiful story Sean. My Mother loved jigsaw puzzles and I bet she, Granny, and MawMaw do them in Heaven. Mom wanted each one of her children to find their “niche” and I am so glad I found mine while she was still alive. It made her so happy.
Marianne Bryan - May 9, 2022 11:59 am
Love the wisdom of encouragement in the face of anguish….. a wise Mama.♥️♥️
gwenthinks - May 9, 2022 12:13 pm
Cindy - May 9, 2022 12:17 pm
That was a precious tribute and helps make up for all the love some moms didn’t feel. Bless you.
marilynbarnard - May 9, 2022 12:29 pm
Something from 2001…
THE PUZZLE OF LIFE
You have a puzzle piece and so do I;
We carry it with us until we die.
Each piece has a place in God’s overall plan
Of what happens to us as woman and man.
All the people we meet and the places we go
Give shape to the picture that we have to show.
So we mingle together and search for a piece
To see if it matches and fits with ease.
Sometimes we think that a piece really goes
Only to find that it just gives us woes;
And we hold on to it for quite a while –
Til we’re forced to trade it for another style.
If we pick up a piece and it won’t seem to fit,
It may be just perfect after waiting a bit.
Then there’s the ones we don’t even touch
Because we believe they’re not worth very much.
Sometimes we’re surprised by what we ignore
When we discover it’s what we’ve looked for.
Thus, we go through life and we pick and we choose
The different pieces we want to use.
At times we seem lost at what choices to make
And amaze ourselves at the chances we take.
We don’t have the picture on the boxtop lid
To show future results of things that we did.
And if we ask questions of God’s grand design,
‘Am I in your puzzle or are you in mine?’
We learn all of these pieces will merge into one
Completing the puzzle when life here is done.
Patricia A Schmaltz - May 9, 2022 12:36 pm
We love you too, Sean. Hug Jamie for me.
Darlene Humphries - May 9, 2022 12:46 pm
Becky Thomas - May 9, 2022 12:55 pm
Bless your mama, and all the moms that teach kids to survive.
Julia Swaney - May 9, 2022 1:01 pm
One more reason to love your column, your mom was a Scrabble fanatic!
Lander - May 9, 2022 1:02 pm
And, indeed, you are.
Jan - May 9, 2022 1:04 pm
Yes, you are soaring high! Thank you, Sean, and a special Thank you to your wonderful Mother!
Dale Parsons - May 9, 2022 1:34 pm
Mom didn’t say much, but she was there.
Elaine Price - May 9, 2022 1:55 pm
Perfect…perfectly beautiful. Truth.
Karl Heeter - May 9, 2022 2:03 pm
Sean your life sounds a lot like me. The big difference is obviously the suicide of your dad. Mom and I also together many puzzles the last of which in a 5,000 piece puzzle and yes it is a great way to spend quiet quality listening and talking time with your mother. My dad died way too early basically at the age I am today. He can be a pain in the butt but most of us tolerate him some of us loved him I think all of us miss him at this point. Not as much as I have missed my mother she was a saint. Blessings to you and your family and you are soaring.
Cathy M - May 9, 2022 2:10 pm
What a beautiful tribute to your mother. She did the best she could with a tough situation. I think she is to be commended . Everyday should Be parents day. Tough job and no prep. Classes. Beautiful words for a fine Mother❤️🙏🏻
Bobbi - May 9, 2022 2:17 pm
Donna W - May 9, 2022 2:48 pm
Jo Henra Griffin - May 9, 2022 2:57 pm
Lost my mother when I was 18 and she was 52. My dad had left us when I was 6 months old. She was a sweet strong woman and the two of us had a great t relationship and I have many wonderful memories of her. Being a wife, mother and grandmother has been the honor or my life.
Your mother sounds like a very wise sweet person! She certainly did a fine job with you and I am sure she is/was very proud of you.
I OVE your analogy of a jigsaw puzzle as God’s Plan for each of our lives. I shall remember and use that analogy!
BJean - May 9, 2022 3:10 pm
It’s encouraging to think that one day my son may remember some positive moments in our life also.
Christina - May 9, 2022 3:52 pm
It’s hard not to love your mama and feel proud with her for the ways that you soar.
imcdbw - May 9, 2022 4:02 pm
Oh Sean. I love your mama, too!
Joy Chanin - May 9, 2022 4:16 pm
It is nice that you are finally writing about your mom. We have heard about your mother-in-law, your dad, but not your mom. And you have a sister too, don’t you? By the way, I have done 5,000 and 6,000 piece puzzles. They are truly time consuming!
Sue Osterhold - May 9, 2022 4:34 pm
Tim House - May 9, 2022 4:53 pm
One of your best yet. Beautiful, soaring, if you will, tribute to your mother. She was right.
Linda Moon - May 9, 2022 5:35 pm
Our family has a couple of boys like you, Sean. Their Mama taught them to soar, too. So, happy belated Mothers Day to your mother!
Patricia Gibson - May 9, 2022 5:35 pm
shirley c hill - May 9, 2022 6:30 pm
Richard Baker - May 9, 2022 7:12 pm
Wow. Your mama knew !
Sharon Allemang - May 9, 2022 8:12 pm
Dry important amplify between a jigsaw puzzle & our lives!! Didn’t see that until you pointed out In fact that may be why I never liked big puzzles to work on!! I am impatient for what it will look like, not the process !! As my life slows down I’m finally enjoying the journey not always just the purist or result ♥️
echoesofmercy - May 9, 2022 8:25 pm
How delightful and introspective. I have a new puzzle in a box. I’m inspired now to get it started! You are soaring! Keep it up.
Cathie Fowler - May 9, 2022 9:25 pm
A lovely tribute to your mom for Mother’s Day, and all mothers that work to put the pieces together. I’m sure she’s proud that you’re soaring..
Linda Buchanan - May 9, 2022 9:43 pm
Yes, you are soaring! Your writing is an inspiration to many! I just finished a 1000 piece puzzle! Reading and Puzzles are my favorite pastimes.
Leslie - May 9, 2022 10:59 pm
You are an eagle!!
Julianne Hendren - May 10, 2022 12:12 am
You ARE soaring, Sean, and I’m so grateful that a friend send a link to one of your blogs. I know your mother is thrilled and beyond proud when she looks down and sees how many people your words touch.
ajacksonwood - May 10, 2022 11:06 am
Lovely tribute to your mama…. and beautifully written. Successful soaring for sure.
Buddy Caudill - May 10, 2022 1:43 pm
You’ve touched many lives, through your writing, Sean.
Your encouraging words have helped more individuals than you will ever know. Keep soaring !
Sheri K - May 10, 2022 5:18 pm
A wonderful tribute to your mama! Also enjoyed the poem above – The Puzzle of Life. Mamas are blessings from God who mold us the best way they know how. I love and miss mine every day!! An angel loaned to our family from our loving God!
Karen - May 10, 2022 6:02 pm
I notice you always had a strong work ethic. No matter where he was in his young years, he always worked. To me that is something to be proud of. I feel the same way your mother did.
Connie - May 12, 2022 2:15 pm
Now, NOW, after reading this, there is NO doubt in my mind and heart that God is most assuredly using you to speak to the heart of others!!
And Sean, DON’T YOU EVER FORGET or DOUBT IT!!
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - May 11, 2022 2:47 pm
Sheilla - May 12, 2022 1:59 am
susan - May 12, 2022 9:44 pm
Precious words! What a wise mother.
Ruelane Bice - May 16, 2022 4:08 pm
Of all the people in your life, no one will be more important than your Mother. Never leave her or forget her needs, especially in her old age.
Kimberly - May 19, 2022 8:58 pm
Oh my heart, this is beautiful
Ruby - June 3, 2022 9:53 pm