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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Life's a Puzzle

The Missing Piece
Floyd Frank

There is a number of little things in my life that make me remember my mother. Whenever I feel like listening to the music of Gershwin or Tchaikovsky I think of her love of good music that surrounded my childhood with quality sounds. When I get a jigsaw puzzle from the closet and sit down to put it together I remember how my love of puzzles grew from helping my Mom assemble her puzzles.

Some of our present-day furniture used to fill my house when I was a kid. Dozens of pictures on our walls used to decorate my old house and countless old books help to fill our shelves.

Some of my personality traits and attitudes are directly traceable through genetic connections to her and my Dad. My reliability and serious integrity can be linked to my father and my sense of humor and my curiosity about how things work can be linked to her. My lack of discipline is due strictly to environmental input. I learned - seriously - that my good qualities are directly linked to the fortunes of good genes and that my bad qualities as well as my bad experiences - all of them - are due to my own inability to resist the temptations that have been offered to me by my environment.

My fondest memories of my Mom and me involve our mutual love of humor and beauty. Some of my actions and comments were mischievous but harmless. Physically harmless, at least. I once told her earnestly that I hoped that someday my teeth would be a beautiful yellow like hers. When I helped her put together a jigsaw puzzle I loved to figure out which pieces she was looking for so I could find them and put them into the puzzle before she could. This aggravated her but it was highly fun for me. We both hated to find a piece missing when we finished the puzzle. That displeasure was shared equally.

Her love of beauty was shown to all every spring when she started preparing our flower gardens. She wore cotton work gloves and pulled weeds, turning winter's drabness into dark fertile dirt beds that soon became full of colorful flowering plants, from pansies and violets to camellias and lilac bushes that attracted butterflies. Her bravery was evident because she was mortally afraid of spiders and snakes but she threw herself into their abodes to turn their homes into flower-filled gardens. One of her flowering plants had red trumpet-shaped flowers that attracted bumblebees. I liked to watch these insects until one of them would go into the flower to reach the pollen. I would hold the ends closed and pull the flower from its stem, trapping the surprised bee inside. I would then shake and squeeze the flower, changing the confused bumblebee into a very angry buzzing creature that wanted freedom so it could punish me with its stinger. I then snuck up behind my Mom and held the noisy flower with its angry inhabitant to her ear. This was incredibly funny to me but scared her to death. The bee never got a chance to sting anyone, but only I knew that.

She lived to the ripe old age of eighty-eight and I see her around me every day. The chair that she liked to sit in has an impression of the back of her head. Books have her comments written in the margins and frontispieces. We have some framed replies from letters that she wrote to Kate Hepburn, Helen Hayes and the Queen of England. It is easy to imagine that she exists not only in our memory but also as an actual spirit who watches over my wife and me, making our home a little warmer. I think her spirit has an ulterior motive as well. There are decades of little frights and aggravations I caused her. Her mischievous side is finally free to act.

The other day I helped my cousin put together one of our old jigsaw puzzles, one that I used to help my Mom assemble. When we were done we found a piece missing. My cousin and I were both a little dismayed. We looked everywhere within ten feet of the table. That piece was gone. I was extra irritated because that piece was essential to the subject in the middle of the puzzle. Oh well, we said, you can't expect a puzzle to be immaculate and pristine when it has been around for forty-five years. The following evening we cleared enough room on the table to have dinner, leaving the almost-completed puzzle untouched. After we ate and cleared our dinnerware my attention was drawn to the floor where I discovered the missing piece. It was a foot from the table in plain sight. I gave the piece to my cousin, who used it to finish our masterpiece.

Why didn't we find that piece last night? We scoured the floor and it just was not ther.
My cousin and I have a theory.

©   Floyd Frank Feb 2009

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