One year, when I was about 10 or 11 and my sister was 6 or 7, our neighbor across the street brought us a present. It has been a cold winter. There was snow. We'd been out of school for a few days, so my mom let us open it. Inside was a puzzle, Verticalville. My mother set up a card table for us to work on and away we went. Verticalville was the first puzzle created by Bob Martin. It is a cartoonish puzzle with crazy characters running all over the place. As you're working the puzzle, you discover more and more funny and interesting things. We were kept occupied for hours. Mom was happy and we were happy.
After that first year, it became a tradition to get a puzzle. We got more Bob Martin puzzles, but as we got older, we also got more challenging puzzles. There was one of Christmas candy that all looked the same. There was a Norman Rockwell Santa one that was huge. We had to do that one on the dining room table. Christmas dinner was held on only one half of the table so that the puzzle could remain undisturbed. The entire family participated in the puzzle-making, though usually not all at once. My sister and I were the most earnest workers and most often worked together.
One of my fondest memories of Christmas began as a disaster. Our house was an old house with oil heat. On Christmas Eve, we ran out of heating oil. No one could get to us until the 27th or 28th. Though we lived in the south, we lived in the mountains, so it got cold in the winters. Typically, it got down to the 20s and 30s at night and we'd had some winters that were colder still. Two rooms in the house that had been added on later had electric heat, the family room and my parents' bedroom. On Christmas Eve, my sister and I got to sleep in sleeping bags in the family room. We actually spent most of the day out there and my parents spent most of the day in their room, all of us watching tv and reading. My sister and I, however, were obsesssed with working the puzzle, which was on a card table in the living room. To go work on it, we donned our ski clothes, which were kept in the family room, and braved the cold of the living room to work on the puzzle. When our fingers got too numb, we'd warm up in the family room and then go back for another round.
Last year, we had our first real attempt at working a puzzle. We got a panorama of Philadelphia and we got a good portion of it done before we all had to go back to work and school. This year, we got a puzzle that resembles Bob Martin's Verticalville. It's full of crazy people playing soccer and cheering on the soccer players. There will be fun discoveries along the way and it will be another way to spend time together.