As a child, my parents used to buy me jigsaw puzzles to put together. These puzzles weren’t the flimsy kind made of thin cardboard that are now sold. They were made of thick solid wood out of which the puzzle had been carved and the pieces hand painted.
Each puzzle had 15 pieces. After putting them together over and over I began to lose interest. So dad came up with an idea. He would remove the pieces from four of the puzzles, mix them all up and put the frames in front of me. This got back my interest for working on them – but only for a short while. Eventually, they found their way to the small closet in my room – taking up a lot of space on the top shelf – never to be looked at or played with again.
Over the years, birthday and Christmas presents that I had outgrown were added to the collection in the closet until it was filled to near capacity. Something had to give. Something had to go.
Mom came in one day in early December and sat me down. She said, “You know, your closet is full of toys and games that you never look at and don’t play with anymore. I was thinking we could go through the things in there and could give some of them to children who don’t have toys to play with. Then you’d have more room in your closet. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
I didn’t care for that idea in the least. Those were my toys. And I told mom as much. I thought that she was going to argue with me about it, but she just said , “Okay, dear – if that’s how you feel.” And she left my room.
I didn’t feel good about the way this ended – but at least I was keeping my toys.
A few days later mom asked if I would like to spend about an hour on Saturday playing with some new friends. “Sure,” I said. “Who are they?”
She just said, “You’ll see.”
That Saturday morning we went out. We walked about a mile to a place that had a sign that said, “The New York Foundling Home For Children”. When we entered, the lady at the reception desk looked at me and said, “Oh, you must be here to play with some of our children. I hope you have a good time.”
She and my mother took me to the home’s “play room”. There were eight kids about my age in there. The lady from the home asked two of them who were working on a small jigsaw puzzle if I could join them putting the puzzle together. They said it would be okay.
So the three of us worked on this 40 piece puzzle when one of the boys said, “All done.” I looked at the puzzle and said, “But there’s four pieces we haven’t put together.” He said, “Oh, those have been missing for a long time.”
The next puzzle was missing seven pieces – and the third and last puzzle that they had was missing almost half its pieces. It’s no fun putting together a jigsaw puzzle when you finish and there are missing pieces and the picture is incomplete.
I was wondering what other games I could play when mom and the lady returned to the game room. Mom said, “It’s time to go. Please thank your new friends for letting you play with them.”
I did. And we left the Foundling Home.
On our way home I asked mom, “What is that place and why do those kids live there?”
She explained these were children whose parents couldn’t take care of them. The people at the home tried to find new families who would adopt them – but sometimes there weren’t enough loving people to take care of all the children, so some of them had to stay in the home.
“But why don’t they have good toys?”
Mom told me that the home didn’t have a lot of money to spend and by the time they bought the children food and clothes there was no money left to buy new toys.
We walked the rest of the way home quietly, the snow starting to fall.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking about the children and their jigsaw puzzles. It was very late but I got out of bed and went into my parents’ room and woke my mother.
I said, “Mommy, can we please give some of my old toys to the kids at the Foundling Home?”
She smiled and said, “Are you sure that you really want to do that?”
I said, “Oh, yes. They need them more than I do.”
That was the year that I understood the message of Christmas.
And I had a lot of room in my closet.