The smell of a pipe. A half-eaten roll of peppermint Life Savers. A dazzling smile, and The New York Times crossword puzzle.
These are the images that spring to mind when I think of my beloved late grandfather, Leon Grill, who passed away in 1989 when he was just 73.
I was influenced by Grandpa Leo in many ways, but perhaps his most lasting legacy — aside from the unconditional love he showered on me — was his love of “the puzzle.” It was a constant in my grandparent’s home, and Grandpa was a master — at least as far as I could tell.
When I started doing “the puzzle” about 15 years ago, the experience was infinitely sweeter because of the knowledge that I was carrying on a noble family tradition.
Of course, I wasn’t the only descendant who inherited Grandpa’s favorite hobby. His daughter, my Aunt Joan, and her husband, Harry, are also devotees.
My younger sister, Genese, is a diehard crossword puzzler, too. In fact, some of our happiest times as adult siblings have been spent passing the magazine section back and forth.
My father says the puzzle gene skipped a generation, but I don’t believe it. Sometimes when Genese, Dad and I hang out, my sister and I persuade him to join in the puzzling fun. On one happy day at the beach, the three of us timed ourselves to see how quickly we could finish one. We were no match for Grandpa, though. He could finish the Sunday puzzle (in pen) all by himself and even made up his own.
One of his greatest regrets? His puzzles were never published in The Times.
A couple of years ago, my father had back surgery and suffered some dangerous complications. It was the first time my sister and I had seriously contemplated his mortality. We were both shaken. When we visited him in New York for our annual holiday trip, he wasn’t well enough to leave his apartment. So his wife, Judy, purchased a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle to pass the time.
It was incredibly challenging. It seemed to take an hour of trial and error just to fit one puzzle piece into another.
Yet every time I found a piece that fit, I was energized for another hour.
Thank God, Dad recovered and this year during our holiday visit, we spent most of our time outside of the apartment. Yet, my experience with the jigsaw puzzle was life-changing. Since then, I’ve become enamored with jigsaws, just as I am with crosswords. Now in a relationship with a man with three teenagers, I’ve found that jigsaw puzzling is a great way to connect with my new pseudo-step kids.
True, they lose interest long before I do, but we’ve spent many peaceful hours together listening to music and quietly contemplating which piece goes where. Our first puzzle — a 1970s TV-themed jigsaw— now hangs on the wall in the basement of the Canton home where I’ll soon be living.
Our next one — a map of the world — has been in progress for months. Who knew there was so much blue water in the world? But I’m not giving up. I’m determined to finish it ASAP so we can start the one I got for Chanukah— a 1,000-piece puzzle that’s a montage of vintage movie posters.