The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

It’s so long ago that I don’t remember the exact number but I think I had ten or twelve of them.  They were jigsaw puzzles but not of the type that we find today, cut from cardboard.  The frames were made of wood, perhaps 3/8″ thick.  The pieces were individually hand painted.  Each puzzle had, perhaps, fifteen pieces.  Naturally, they were fairly easy to do.

As a challenge, my parents would empty three or four puzzles at a time, mixing up the pieces.  This proved far more entertaining to me.  I could work on these for hours at a time, swapping in different puzzles and doing the same thing, mixing together four  new puzzles.

But eventually, my interest in doing the puzzles diminished since I had done them so many times.  They were consigned to the little closet in my room.  Their main function was to take up a fair amount of the limited space on the top shelf.

Several years went by and I hadn’t even thought about playing with these puzzles when my mother came in one day and said, “Honey, I was thinking.  You haven’t played with your puzzles for a long time and they’re not doing you or anyone else any good.  Why don’t we take them down to the N. Y. Home for Foundlings and give them to the children who live there?”

I didn’t know it lived within me but as soon as she had spoken those words, I suddenly felt as though the air had been sucked out of my body and one of mankind’s greatest enemies, selfishness, rose up and spoke on my behalf.

“I don’t want to give them away, Mommy.  I’ll play with them again.”  And I walked to the closet, stood on the little step stool and reached for the top puzzle which I promptly emptied on my desk just to prove my point to her.

My mother said, “Okay, dear if that’s the way you feel.”

When she left the room I breathed a sigh of relief.  I had held on to my puzzles and no one was going to take them away from me.  So I completed the puzzle which held no interest for me and returned it to its place in the closet.

No more was said of this as we approached the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was the Saturday before the big day and my mother asked if I would come with her to do some grocery shopping.  I was happy to tag along.

So we stopped at a couple of stores and purchased a few items.  Then we went and took a detour and ended up at the orphanage to which my mother had wanted me to donate my puzzles.  It was a fairly large building, rather grey and bleak both from the outside and, as I was to learn, equally as unspiring inside as well.

When we rang the bell a matronly lady came to the door.  She wore a simple dress and a cardigan sweater and her grey hair was knotted into a large bun at the back of her head.  Her hair reminded me of the yarn with which my mother knitted to make sweaters for the family.  You could have put quite a few of those knitting needles in that bun.

But she was warm and very friendly as my mother introduced herself and we quickly were brought in from the chill and entered the building’s lobby.  Apparently, this lady had been expecting us.  I didn’t know that my mother had called and asked if I might join the children in a “play date”.

I was ushered into the orphanage’s play room where there were seven or eight children involved in a variety of activities.  Several were playing Chutes and Ladders and other board games.  But there was one little boy who was working on a jigsaw puzzle.  I asked if I could join him and he agreed.  His name was Timmy.

So Timmy and I worked together to put the puzzle together.  It was one of those less expensive puzzles with quite a few pieces but made from cardboard.  I remember that the puzzle was of a German Shepherd, standing in a field.  We had almost all of the puzzle finished with only three or four pieces to go when I noticed that there were no more pieces.  That poor German Shepherd had no nose.  So I asked Timmy where the other pieces were.  He told me that they had been lost a long time ago and that we were finished with the puzzle.  I remember feeling bad for that German Shepherd.  How could he smell his dinner?

Timmy and I started on another puzzle.  This one was a picture of a sail boat on a lake.  We had just finished the frame and were starting to work on the insides when my mother came in and told me that we had to leave.  I said goodbye to my new friend and mom and I returned home.

I didn’t sleep well that night.  The thought of that poor noseless German Shepherd kept running through my mind.  And I felt sorry for Timmy and the other kids because they had to work on puzzles with missing pieces.  I remember running into my parents’ room and waking my mother with the urgent news that I had decided to give my puzzles to the kids at the orphanage.  Despite being awakened out of a deep sleep, I remember seeing a few tears well up in my mother’s eyes and she smiled with approval.  “We’ll talk about it in the morning, dear.”

After we returned from church, Grandma prepared a light lunch.  It was just enough to keep our stomachs from growling but not so much as to spoil the large Sunday dinner that she always made.  And when we had finished, mom asked if I would like to help her pack up the puzzles as dad was going to have to drive us over to the orphanage as they were too heavy to carry.

I got on the step stool and started handing them down to her.  She had gotten two cardboard boxes to put them in.  I remember looking at them somewhat wistfully, knowing that I would never see these old friends again.  Maybe I had made the wrong decision in giving them away.  But then I thought of Timmy and the other kids and the German Shepherd who had no nose and those thoughts vanished from  my thinking.

Dad picked up the two boxes and we headed toward the elevator.  When we got to the ground floor he put them on the floor and went to get the car which was parked several blocks away as mom and I guarded this bit of treasure.  When he returned, he left the car running, grabbed the boxes and the three of us headed to the orphanage.

We were lucky to find a space right outside the building.  Dad turned off the car’s engine, grabbed the two boxes and the three of us walked to the entrance.  I remember ringing the bell.

The same nice lady whom I had met the day before, greeted us and invited us inside.  She quickly led us to the game room and dad found a desk on which to place the two cartons of puzzles.  Timmy and several of the other kids who I saw the previous day were there.

“Timmy, I brought you some new puzzles.”

Timmy came over and eagerly started looking through the first box.  He reached in and pulled out one of them.  It was a silly puzzle, a duck riding a bicycle.

“Wow, these are neat!  And I’ll bet we won’t lose these pieces, they’re so big and heavy.”

It gave me a warm feeling to see the joy in his face.  And I was sure that would be shared by many of the other kids as they played with what once had been my very own jigsaw puzzles.

Despite the turmoil in which we find our world today, there is still reason to be grateful at Thanksgiving.  It goes beyond a day filled with football and a meal replete with over eating.  It comes down to something far simpler and yet far more profound.

We are fortunate that despite the tumult which wells around us, there are still people who are willing to show charity to strangers for no reason other than it gives them a warm feeling inside.  And if we ever lose that, we are much like that jigsaw puzzle that is missing a piece or two, the pieces that comprise the finest part of the human spirit.

Have a joyous Thanksgiving.


  1. Interesting post. We accumulated puzzles over the years (that was before the era of IPad puzzles) The children left home but the puzzles remained because they had happy memories, then one day we were visiting a retirement home and noted some of the old folk had nothing to occupy their time. So we exchanged our old treasured memories for the feeling of satisfaction in knowing our puzzles were once again causing happiness.

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