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The Tradition of the Christmas Puzzle

By Wilma Jean Waggener Cravens

I remember when I was a little girl, growing up with a big, boisterous family in a big white house on Jamestown Street.

It was such a long, long time, then, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when Santa would come.

The wait was long, but Mama and Daddy had a diversion to make the anticipation bearable: The Christmas Puzzle.

All of the children would study the Sears catalog and the five and dime store windows on the Square in Downtown Columbia.

We'd write or tell our wishes to our parents. Either way, our lists would clandestinely make their way to Santa Claus. And he did the best he could to make the wishes come true, or find a suitable substitute. If the latter would be necessary, Mama would tell us that maybe Santa would get it right next year.

Our lists were revised over and over as we changed our minds.

Mama would impress on us that three wishes each were enough. Santa had to have enough to go around for the other children of the world, she said. The same reasoning had been used to get us to clean our plates - there were starving children in China who would love to have what we didn't eat.

That was before World War II. And China was our friend. At that time they had a famine.

In Sunday School at Columbia Baptist Church, we gave what coins we could to the Lottie Moon Fund for food for China. At that age, it was hard to see how, if I left a bite of green beans on my plate, that a child in China would benefit less.

A big jigsaw puzzle

The Christmas Puzzle was a big jigsaw puzzle which would be laid out on a card table. Or, sometimes it would occupy our formal dining room table, which was left unused a lot of the time, except for homework.

When the waiting for Christmas would become unbearable, we would work on that puzzle. Sometimes we worked alone, but many times there would be five or six people working on it at one time.

A move to Indianapolis

Just a few years later, after the war, late in my high school day, I met a Paul Cravens, a handsome and ambitious Navy veteran. After we married, we moved to Indianapolis, where he worked, I worked, and Paul studied at Lincoln Chiropractic College.

Our first child, the first grandchild in my immediate family, came along. Of course he was adorable. Everything Phil did was most wonderful!

Once, on a visit back to Jamestown Street, I came in Mama's kitchen to see Eddie, Annette, and Ralph Roy (who was just three years older than Phil) watching as Phil - about one-year-old at the time - was in Mama's lower, kitchen cabinet, with only his little bottom sticking out. He was very busily and very gleefully throwing out all the canned goods stored there. The little uncles and the little aunt were laughing their fool heads off, not making a move to stop him.

The Christmas Puzzle was on the Kitchen Table

On the next holiday visit, the Christmas Puzzle was on the Kitchen Table. Yes. capital letters. The Kitchen Table was a a proper name in our family.

Daddy was an inventor. He had taken a smaller kitchen table and customized it. It was stretched to accommodate six-to-eight people at a time. And it may have been the only kitchen table in Adair County with a surface of inlaid linoleum. The same inlaid linoleum covered the kitchen counters. It was reddish, mottled with black.

It may not have been elegant piece of furniture. But I know the best food anyone has eaten since, was put on that table. There was Mama's fried chicken, mashed potatoes, homemade blackberry jam, blackberry cobbler, and jam cake. From her garden came homegrown tomatoes, green onions, asparagus, Bibb lettuce, radishes, and green peas. Colonel Sanders, in his best days, could only have wished he could match her home made biscuits and thickened white gravy.

Mama was famous for serving wonderful food.

Anyway, the puzzle was on that table. Several of us were working on the puzzle. Fay, Peanut, Annette and some of the rest of the family were fitting pieces. Phil was about two years old. He was watching and listening as one or the other adults would say, "That piece goes there!" or "This piece goes here!"

Phil's father was putting together his own little section of sky to one side, intending to insert it in the big puzzle, when, all of a sudden, Phil grabbed a piece of the puzzle, lean over the puzzle, and said, "Me fic it," and of course he did! It was his Daddy's part.

'Me fic it' now part of our family language

So nowadays, if any one in the family has a big or small problem, working on the puzzle or otherwise, someone says, "Me fic it," and everyone present smiles, remembering the phrase's origin.

In our line of the family, the Paul J. Cravens one, we've carried on the Christmas Puzzle tradition.

True, there don't seem to be as many families with the love of jigsaw puzzles we have. Today there are all those games on hand-held computers. But those are one-person games. And jigsaw puzzles are for everyone.

We'll have our family Christmas jigsaw puzzle on the table again this year. And this year, as every year for more than half-century, we'll advise the participants not to succumb to the temptation to hold on to a single piece hoping that it we'll be the triumphant completion piece, and thus qualify that person to announce the triumph with "Me fic it!"

I guess the Christmas Puzzle is now more of a Hoosier tradition than a Kentucky one. And maybe one day all our Indiana-born kids will think it started here.

But I know, and I want you to know, that it all started in the big white house on Jamestown Street in Columbia, where my parents, E.P. and Audrey Chelf Waggener, raised six kids as best they could.

Jean Cravens
5317 South Capitol Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46217

Phone: 317 786-2805

Click here for another story by this writer:
The Mystery of the Missing Confections

This story was posted on 2004-11-27 09:03:26
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The Christmas Puzzle

2004-11-27 - Columbia, KY - Photo Linda Waggener. "IT WAS A LONG TIME BETWEEN Thanksgiving and Christmas" remembers Jean Cravens. She grew up on Jamestown Street in Columbia and writes about her memories -- Click 'read more' for her thoughts on "The Christmas Puzzle".
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Little bunny girl

2004-12-09 - Columbia, KY - Photo Annette Richards. If you had Mary Richards as a teacher, or Audrey Waggener as a Sunday School teacher at the Baptist Church, you may see a bit of them in this sweet little bunny in her first halloween costume -- Audrey LeeAnn Richards is their great granddaughter. Little Audrey was the long-awaited girl grandchild of Jim and Annette Richards of Bowling Green. Her parents, Steve and Cindy Richards, named her for both Steve's grandmother Audrey Lee, and for Steve's sister Ann Richards. Click 'read more' for more on her family heritage from her Great Aunt Jean.
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