A Box Of Perplexing Penguins


Flip. Waddle. Flop. Splash. I’d probably see black and white birds in my sleep.
I stretched back to relieve my stiffness. I’d been bent over a jigsaw puzzle named Penguins on the Beach, a bright, lively cartoon-type picture of a sandy shoreline meeting blue water with both sand and water covered in penguins, living it up at the beach.
I think back a couple years to when we said we’d better forget the 1,000-piece puzzles and stick with only 500 or so. We agreed we would have a better chance of getting them finished.
It’s become a tradition that we work on a jigsaw puzzle sometime during our holiday family get-togethers. I helped perpetuate this by continually picking up new ones from a puzzle exchange at our local library. We probably have enough to keep us in business for 10 years at the rate we build them.
I chose the penguin puzzle for its summery beach scene, taking it to my brother Tom’s toward the end of summer. We unrolled our large, green felt puzzle holder over his living room carpet, formed the border edges of the puzzle (all but one piece), and filled in most of the water section that afternoon (about a third of the picture).
When our elbows and knees could take no more of working on the floor, we rolled up the felt (puzzle intact), and slid it into its box (the box it was shipped in which is still covered in comic paper, a Christmas gift for the family).
Tom and I pulled out the difficult puzzle again on New Year’s Eve with intentions of finishing the thing while we enjoyed a night of music and toasted the New Year with champagne. “Sparkling wine,” my politically correct brother cautioned, (you can’t call it champagne anymore unless it actually comes from Champagne, France).
We grew tired of the flurry of black and white birds, and our midnight toast hadn’t helped our perception of the penguins, so we rolled up the felt again.
Next day, for the third time, I opened our puzzle mat, and my dad, Tom and I huddled over the broken, busy picture of the crowded congregation of pointy black beaks, flipper “arms”, and webbed feet.
“This baby stroller should have another wheel.” I scanned for a piece to go with half a baby buggy containing a penguin baby in a frilly yellow bonnet peering over the edge of its pram.
“Now, which umbrella is this pink and orange one?” Tom wondered as he looked at the puzzle box. (The picture on the box was deceiving since quite a margin of the picture was not in our puzzle.) We compared a dozen or more multi-striped beach umbrellas scattered among the multitude of black and white birds.
“Here’s a lady’s head in a pink hat (lady penguin, of course). Where does it go?” I checked the box.
“What about this tray of drinks?” The box shows it’s being held up by a waiter with a towel over his arm (make that flipper). “Wait, here’s another waiter, and another.” There were several penguin waiters mingling through the crowded beach, each with a tray of glasses filled with drinks of various color. “So, which one is this one?”
“This is ridiculous!” groaned Dad as the three of us stood, hunched over the table on New Year’s Day. The plentiful penguins were too much for us again. With the border still missing one piece, we rolled the birds into the comics-covered box where they’ll have to wait till our next time off.
Maybe on Martin Luther King Day I’ll have a date with some penguins.


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