Little Pieces

Today, I dumped a five-hundred-piece puzzle on my kitchen table. I found the corners first. And I’m thinking about the way our lives went.

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 blonde 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.

64 comments

  1. GaryD - October 22, 2018 5:22 am

    You have the perfect mother, Sean. I know you won’t ever forget that. Lucky you.

    Reply
  2. Pamela McEachern - October 22, 2018 7:03 am

    You are soaring and I think your Mama is still stearing. I too believe you are in the middle of some great things…but you already have the corners in place. Beautiful tribute to your Mother.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  3. Nancy Rogers - October 22, 2018 9:26 am

    Beautiful, just beautiful. The unseen hand sees that we are soaring, even when we don”t.

    Reply
  4. Kristine Wehrheim - October 22, 2018 9:42 am

    You are soaring. I think you are..

    Reply
  5. Jean - October 22, 2018 9:44 am

    Your mama would be very proud of you.

    Reply
  6. Nancy - October 22, 2018 9:53 am

    Thank God for your Mama! Thank God for you, Sean! Soar on and don’t ever stop writing.

    Reply
  7. Becky St. John - October 22, 2018 10:53 am

    Simply beautiful! Your mama was so right! Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Connie Havard Ryland - October 22, 2018 10:53 am

    Sweet. Your love for your mom and your wife shines through every word you write. What a lovely way to start my day.

    Reply
  9. Peggy Savage - October 22, 2018 11:15 am

    Your mama was blessed to have you as her son.

    Reply
  10. janiesjottings - October 22, 2018 11:19 am

    Thank God for Mama’s who raise their children alone, they are among the unsung heroes of the world. And thank you Sean for this beautifully written look into your life. Bless you for seeing the beauty in women and talking about it. Your love for your mama and your wife have helped you to soar.

    Reply
  11. Steve - October 22, 2018 11:25 am

    Good words. Find the corners first.

    Reply
  12. Sandra Smith - October 22, 2018 11:33 am

    I wish I could write like you. You make me want to try again, and that’s not just soaring, Sean., which, Don’t misunderstand me…you ARE, but you’re like one of those planes you see at the beach, flying over with a advertisement for the best seafood place to eat in Gulf Shores….except, your flying and giving us messages of hope, stories that tell us that there ARE still good people in this, sometimes, ugly ol’ world. You entice us to go out and look for them, seeing through “hopeful” eyes, all that there is to be grateful for. Sometimes, those wings of yours, make the difference between a gloomy, depressed day, and a ray of sunshine, beaming in on you. That’s MORE than soaring…that’s shining like the sun, in all it’s glory.
    That’s what it is….it’s GLORIOUS !
    Just keep on soaring in all your Glory.
    We’re watching…
    And,
    Thank You !!!

    Reply
  13. Jeanie Crutchfield - October 22, 2018 11:34 am

    The last line is what ever mother wants to hear and hear often. In my book you are soaring. Enjoy this daily start my day read. Keep up soaring——————-

    Reply
  14. Kathy Wolfe - October 22, 2018 12:12 pm

    Your puzzle is going together very well and all the pieces are there.

    Reply
  15. Mike Guilday - October 22, 2018 12:15 pm

    Sean, your puzzle, although almost complete, is missing some large important pieces. My childhood in someways was similar to yours but that’s a story for a different time. My puzzle wasn’t completely finished until I walked my daughter down the isle. My puzzle wasn’t complete until I sat and watched my son graduate from police academy. What was missing was the feeling that I had broken the cycle that my father and his father had lived, the cycle of not being there for their children. Finish your puzzle and break your cycle, have children or adopt children and be their to walk them through life.

    Reply
    • Pat - October 22, 2018 3:02 pm

      Excellent Mike! Just excellent!

      Reply
  16. Jan - October 22, 2018 12:21 pm

    One of your best, Sean!!! There are so many good ones … but this may be the very best so far! Thank you!

    Reply
  17. Jenny Young - October 22, 2018 12:24 pm

    This may be one of the best pieces you’ve ever written. When we’re in the middle of chaos, deep in touch stuff…we have no hope it could ever actually come together to be anything worthwhile. Hearing of someone who made it through to the other side brings hope

    What a beautiful, wise mother you had…such a treasure.

    Have you ever thought about putting your writings together into a book? This would be a beautiful introduction.

    Reply
    • Debbie Shiflett - December 13, 2018 1:46 pm

      Jenny Young, he already has! Check for Sean’s collection of books on Amazon. I have several and have enjoyed them as !ugh as my daily dose of his gift I get here each day.

      Reply
  18. Xan - October 22, 2018 12:28 pm

    “Her words hung in the air like the smell of bread.”

    “…by an Unseen Hand.”

    Sean – your B-E-S-T yet…thanks.

    Reply
  19. Debbie - October 22, 2018 12:28 pm

    Beautiful, simply beautiful ❤️

    Reply
  20. Phillip Saunders - October 22, 2018 12:42 pm

    Sean,
    That’s not just a story – it’s a sermon, and a “you put it down here where us goats can get it” one. No job done well is too menial as to not be important; and you are doing this important one very, very well. Your wonderful mama raised her boy right.

    Reply
  21. Garnet Faulkner - October 22, 2018 12:42 pm

    This past Monday was my mother’s 97th birthday. She has been resting peacefully for 4 years now. I miss her so much.

    Reply
  22. Kayren Owens - October 22, 2018 12:48 pm

    Absolutely one of your best ever. When my puzzle was dumped on the table of life 69 years ago this coming Halloween, all of the pieces seemed to be there, and they promised to reveal a beautiful picture of life once each piece was pushed into place. Mostly, this has been the case, but there have been pieces that had to have the edges shaved a bit to make them fit. The corners were pretty simple, and the edges held even though their placement was difficult at times. It is the center of my puzzle that has been most difficult, particularly those pieces that have been forced into the bigger picture. I have realized that when my puzzle is done, there will be two missing pieces–my heart and my soul will never fall into place. I lost my husband and my daughter in 2016 and 2018.

    Reply
  23. Karen - October 22, 2018 1:03 pm

    Your mother is a strong and amazing woman. She has been a wonderful guide through this life of yours.

    Reply
  24. Marcia MacLean - October 22, 2018 1:11 pm

    As the mother of two sons, this is beautiful and touched me. As you soar, your mother is the wind beneath your wings.

    Reply
  25. Leslie - October 22, 2018 1:13 pm

    Thanks, Sean. Beautiful, as always. Keep soaring – you’re an example to the rest of us!

    Reply
  26. Jo Ann - October 22, 2018 1:20 pm

    Along with our love to you, please pass our love on to your mom. She could have abusive or bitter or an alcoholic or drug user. Instead, she loved you & your sister and passed on her love & encouragement. She was/is a hard worker, ever busy, & set a fine example for her children. If we could all be like your mom, the world would be a much better place.

    Reply
  27. Roxanne - October 22, 2018 1:33 pm

    That was as perfect an essay as I’ve ever read. Not even kidding.

    Reply
  28. Marty from Alabama - October 22, 2018 1:40 pm

    Sean, today’s post was a keeper. The entire writing was great – I remember puzzles, too. But the thing that makes today’s post so special is your last line, “I love you, Mama.”
    Regardless of a man’s position in life, if he can honestly say that, he has succeeded. Wish I could tell my momma that I loved her. It’s been twenty years and she’s in my thoughts everyday.
    Keep writing.

    Reply
  29. Suzanne Russell - October 22, 2018 1:58 pm

    You raised your own bar today. Beautiful story beautifully written.

    Reply
  30. Debbie - October 22, 2018 2:23 pm

    This was your best post ever! Your mom was a wise woman! And she raised a good son! She’s right – you make people feel good with your words – YOU SOAR!!

    Reply
  31. JoAnne Kimrey - October 22, 2018 2:27 pm

    Sean, this may be your best yet! Beautiful!

    Reply
  32. Jack Darnell - October 22, 2018 2:32 pm

    Great entry, loved it and remember the puzzles. My sister was good with puzzles. She never said anything like ‘soar’ but she taught me a lot. To ride a bicycle, jump rope and play ‘hop-scotch’. You have a way of bringing back some good memories. I lost Shirley this year, but she made it to 82. I wish your dad had.

    Reply
  33. Edna B. - October 22, 2018 2:38 pm

    Your mom was very wise. I love jig saw puzzles. They help me to relax. This is a beautiful story. Thank you, and have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  34. Deb - October 22, 2018 2:43 pm

    You are definitely SOARING! In fact , I think you should consider adding that to your professional name.
    Soaring Sean of the South! Not that has a nice ring to it!!!

    Reply
  35. David Proctor - October 22, 2018 2:53 pm

    Sean, what a moving tribute to your mother. My mom died four years ago. Your words remind me of how she displayed unconditional love for me and my sister. Thanks for what you do.

    Reply
  36. Rene Hodges - October 22, 2018 2:59 pm

    You are the essential piece!

    Reply
  37. Pat - October 22, 2018 3:07 pm

    I have been luckier than some here, but we all have problems putting the puzzle together. Sometimes it takes longer than other times. Anyone who watched Touched By An Angel understands that one day you will look back and see that God is/was at work.

    Reply
  38. Brian’s mom - October 22, 2018 3:12 pm

    One of your best. And a nice reminder.

    Reply
  39. Richard Daughenbaugh - October 22, 2018 3:38 pm

    Somehow this is me.

    Reply
  40. Alice Grimes - October 22, 2018 4:08 pm

    You ARE soaring. What a blessing to have such a mama. You have certainly made her proud. God bless you and yours. Alice, also of the South (transplanted to Texas where my only child and only grandchild live).

    Reply
  41. Shelton Armour - October 22, 2018 4:13 pm

    Your mama was so right.

    Reply
  42. Steve Winfield - October 22, 2018 4:31 pm

    So many of us agree that you are soaring now. Like an eagle.
    God has blessed you with the ability to bring comfort to so many others. If that ain’t soaring…..

    Reply
  43. Anita D. Rankin - October 22, 2018 5:58 pm

    I love your puzzle Sean- we are all blessed by it and I love your mother too!

    Reply
  44. Carol Pepper - October 22, 2018 6:05 pm

    Sean, Your mom and my mom were cut from the same cloth!
    We enjoyed working puzzles together from the time I was big enough to sit at the dining table.
    When I married, not being there to work puzzles with Mother was one of the things I misses the most.
    Thanks for another very good one!

    Reply
  45. Carolynn Bettis - October 22, 2018 6:06 pm

    Beautifully composed with so much not said….. A tribute to your Mother, your Dad and you! Keep soaring… that Unguided Hand has your parents attached… Thanks for all your writings.

    Reply
  46. Brenda McLaine - October 22, 2018 6:38 pm

    Beautiful writing today.

    Reply
  47. Joanne Messer - October 22, 2018 6:47 pm

    A very touching story you have here, Do you or have you considered writing books? After reading this today. I bet you could fill up 400 or 500 pages easily.If you have published any, please let me know the names of them.

    Reply
    • Debbie Shiflett - December 13, 2018 1:53 pm

      Joanne, Sean has authored several books. Check Amazon! They would make great Christmas gifts.

      Reply
  48. Glenda - October 22, 2018 8:37 pm

    Oh, Sean. You didn’t make me cry this morning, so happy I got email this evening, not because you made me tear up, but because you did! You ought to be Orville & Wilbur because you are so “right”. Love you. Glenda

    Reply
  49. Cathy Butler - October 22, 2018 10:58 pm

    This hits home. I have two children, a boy (17) and girl (15). They have both had a rough couple months. Nothing like losing a father, but pressures of school, friends & finding their place in the world, seem to have been weighing heavy on their shoulders. At dinner tonight I’d like to borrow your mother’s wise words & tell them both they will soar. Thank you!

    Reply
  50. Linda Trammell - October 22, 2018 11:23 pm

    Loved this – maybe because I love jigsaw puzzles.
    Why? Because when you finish one, the world seems a little more in order. Also you can dust your hands off & say (Like Charlene Darling,) “Done & Done!” Anytime you can quite a Darling is a good time!

    Reply
  51. Michael Hawke - October 23, 2018 1:51 am

    Buy your Mama a Super Scrabble board. Lots of fun.

    Reply
  52. rantsandravescom - October 23, 2018 8:19 am

    I am 77 years old and my mama has been gone 47 years. She died young. She was only 61 years old. Now a days I think of all the things she taught me. I grew up in a small town, 700 people. On Sundays, after church and Sunday dinner she would take us out in the car. We drove over every pig path. She has even driven over saplings for there was a road there when she was growing up. She knew everyone in the country. For beside working at her job everyday she went driving out to collect money for TB seals, March of dimes cancer research etc. I don’t know how she did what she did. I wish I could tell her I love her today. One day I will.

    Reply
  53. Janet Mary Lee - October 23, 2018 3:13 pm

    You not only soar, you are just amazing. Love to your mama, who is pretty amazing herself!

    Reply
  54. Eleanor - October 23, 2018 4:04 pm

    longreads.com/2018/10/16/living-with-dolly-parton/

    Reply
  55. Pingback: Daily Devotional for October 26, 2018 – Living your best life…is Christ living in you? – Daily Devo Time

  56. Patricia - December 13, 2018 8:53 am

    Yes, our life start out as a puzzle. And slowly and miraculously pieces somehow come together. Thanks again for the reminder and the wonderful meditative tool a puzzle is. And His Hand is the Creator.?❤

    Reply
  57. Carolyn K - December 13, 2018 11:44 am

    ❤️?

    Reply
  58. Frances Lamb - December 13, 2018 1:16 pm

    This is your best yet.

    Reply
  59. Judy Ray - December 13, 2018 4:47 pm

    Sean, you talk about all the different jobs you had as if they were menial and unimportant. Do you have any idea how many Life skills you learned and developed doing all those different jobs? You know how to do so many things that are useful in life. You can repair and renovate your home as well as help others. You learned people skills. You have musical talent- both vocal and instrumental. You have artistic skills – I’ve seen some of your artwork. I don’t think you have any idea how many people would love to know how to do all the things you can do. All those jobs you think were beneath most people (and that you seem to be embarrassed about) made you into a very well rounded and multi-talented man. We should all be fortunate enough to experience life like you have. You are a blessing to so many people and we love you.

    Reply
  60. unkle Kenny - December 14, 2018 2:02 am

    Our Lutheran pastor must have been into puzzles because ever Sunday he would mention the peace that passes all human understanding . uk

    Reply
  61. Donna Oliphint - December 15, 2018 3:54 am

    One of my favorites.

    Reply

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