The night after Christmas Day, our California daughter said, “Mom, let’s begin your new puzzle.”

Considering she presented me with the beautiful gift the day before, I replied, “Sure!” It seemed the perfect way to enjoy one of the two nights she and her husband spent in our house – the home where we celebrated Christmases during her junior and senior high school and college years before she left the nest.

“Dad, do you want to join us?” Kelly asked.

“No thanks,” he said, and settled into conversation with our son-in-law, Steve.

Kelly and I rolled up the dining room tablecloth on one end and emptied 1,000 pieces onto the pad. “That’s a lot of puzzling. We won’t finish this in your two nights here,” I said.

“We had fun with the puzzle you gave us a few Christmases ago,” Kelly replied.

So we enjoyed matching pieces until 11 p.m.. Meanwhile, I determined to appreciate the slow, solitary process of completing the lovely picture of a bee skep encircled by wildflowers and honeybees.

The following day, Steve, Kelly and I lunched on delicious African food in downtown Detroit and visited her younger sister at her workplace. Then we picked up my grandson from Wayne State’s campus to shop with us on Canfield Street. Thus, the puzzle didn’t interest us when we returned home.

After dinner, relaxing around the puzzle pieces, I asked Kelly, “Have you made your goals for 2023?”

She nodded.
“Wilderness backpacking for one.”

“Oh yes, that’s why you wanted the REI gift card for Christmas,” I remembered.

“And I’d like to learn to play chess.”

“Me too!”

When a chessboard appeared in the first part of my second novel several years ago, I questioned my characters. “You sure about this? I know nothing about the game.”

“Trust us,” they said. “Playing chess makes a nimble mind.”

I did trust them. For I’ve learned, as Madeleine L’Engle declares in her memoir, “A Circle of Quiet,” creativity is an act of complete faith. Truly, the woman who wrote the children’s classic, “A Wrinkle in Time,” speaks with authority.

I confess, when Kelly and Steve drove away yesterday morning for the airport and left me profoundly lonely and without a puzzle partner, I laid down to rest. Decided I wanted a nimble mind.

While building the five parts of my second novel, the chessboard appeared throughout the story without necessity of one detour from writing for chess lessons. Now, under the direction of a small publisher in Richmond, Virginia, I have a brief window of time where I’d like to learn the game, try my eye and hand on the board before Matewan Garden Club is released this coming spring.

Dear Reader, those puzzle pieces on the dining room table compete with chess lessons, ask for time with Kelly’s gift. Both are worthy activities to achieve. Truth is, I could use the mental exercise and break from words.

I’ll finish the puzzle – clear the space for a chessboard and thirty-two chessmen.

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