Why we do family puzzles



Conversation and connections often happen more easily when gathered around a shared puzzle table. ©Thinkstock

Every year when rain is in the forecast and the first leaf drops from the trees signaling a change of season, our family tradition of puzzling begins.

In my younger years this familial ritual commenced right around the holidays and was an activity initiated to help pass time as we patiently awaited the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Puzzles are also perfect for long snowy days if you live in those climates.

It always began with mama rummaging in the cupboard beneath our stairs, looking for our homemade puzzling table. While she always claimed she “couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket,” she hummed anyway—just a little off-key—as she went about the task of readying the table.

After lovingly dusting its top and locking the legs firmly in place she leaned her weight on it, testing its stability. Finally satisfied, she moved it to its special spot under the brightest light in the living room, where it held its place all winter long.

It somehow seemed easier to broach difficult subjects in that intimate atmosphere.

The 1,000 piece puzzles showing old-fashioned scenes with a myriad of colors were our favorites. The more challenging the better, prolonging the time spent with heads bent over puzzle pieces having some of our best talks. No topic was taboo, the only guidelines being each person be heard without judgment, and all discussions be conducted with respect.

It somehow seemed easier to broach difficult subjects in that intimate atmosphere, and that quiet time spent together invited opportunity for thoughtful questions, problem solving or just a sharing of feelings, ideas and dreams.

As each bad-weather season approaches, our family ritual continues. Although mama is no longer with us, her puzzle table occupies a prominent place in our home. My children and grandchildren join me there to pass the time puzzling and talking. Sometimes we are one-on-one, sometimes all together, but the conversations are much the same.

Technology has drastically changed the way our families communicate today. Granted it is instantaneous, far-reaching and more convenient. But spending exorbitant amounts of time within ourselves, glued to one type of screen or another does have its drawbacks.

While rainy day puzzling may not be the ultimate answer to more intimate family communication, there’s one thing I know for sure. The table set up in my living room every season is an instant draw for family members and guests alike. Silently awaiting, it urges us to gather ‘round. Unable to resist, we pull up our chairs, heads bending over puzzle pieces and the bonding continues. And as this seasonal ritual unfolds, I can’t help but think that my mother is with us in spirit, extremely proud of what she has started.

ANNE BATTY is a freelance writer/editor living in San Clemente, Calif. You can visit her blog at awriterrambles.com.


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