Puzzle struggles

Left to right, Lydia Volz, Lorraine Zweber and Mary Schneider with their finished puzzle. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

A puzzle hanging party was held at Greenhouse Village co-op on April 9. Building Manager Jeff Welle, center, told the trio they could tie up the craft room where the puzzle was laid out, until it was completed. Welle had no idea the project would take 20 months. (submitted photo)

3 Roseville women admit to feeling “bleary-eyed” at times during the 20-month project

These ladies were so into this jigsaw puzzle they were wearing jigsaw earrings! Well, two of them were anyway, but we’re getting ahead of the story.

Mary Schneider was given a box containing a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle as a retirement gift 10 years earlier when she left her job as a computer operator for the U.S Postal Service. The sheer size of the puzzle was overwhelming and left her wondering what to do with it.

Schneider eventually moved into Greenhouse Village senior co-op in Roseville and spotted another resident, retired nurse Lorraine Zweber, working on a jigsaw puzzle. The pair talked about Mary’s huge puzzle and got fired up to give it a shot in the spring of 2011. Soon another retired nurse, Lydia Volz, joined them.

Then the three went to work.

The adventure begins

With lots of background colors and undefined shapes, the scene of a Gothic garden and fountain in Germany was difficult to construct, by any stretch, with lots of background, colors and defined shapes. But 5,000 pieces?

The answer was to break the enormous project into manageable chunks. “We divided the total into piles of about 500 pieces on each of 10 20-by-30-inch poster boards on two large tables clamped together” in the Greenhouse Village craft room, Lorraine explains. But some of those 500 pieces often related to pieces in a pile on another poster board.

The ladies once spent two hours without fitting together any pieces. Lorraine even tried ringing a bell after 30 minutes to signal it was time to move on to a different section.

As the work progressed at a snail’s pace, “some pieces kinda fit, but didn’t,” Lydia says. So they would occasionally take a portion apart, and just start over.

Once in a while they turned a section over, forgetting about the picture and just trying to fit the shapes together until we were “bleary-eyed,” she adds.

“But we never thought we’d throw in the towel,” Lorraine says.

Other residents, 20 to begin with, at the 140-person resident complex stopped by to pitch in, but it was too much for most folks and interest dwindled.

The missing link

Remaining residents were encouraged to take a pile of pieces, which seemed to go together, back to their housing units to work on fitting them. And that, the ladies suspect, is how one piece disappeared and has not been found to this day. “It’s remarkable that only one was lost,” Lydia says. A replacement was soon carved with an Xacto knife and painted by a resident artist who lived at the co-op. It is very well hidden in the finished puzzle, which measures just over 4-feet high by a little under 5-feet wide.

The women quipped they are “old hands” at puzzles - Lorraine and Lydia are both 80. Mary jokes, “If I’m 80 I don’t want it in the newspaper!”

The trio also found humor on the puzzle box: “Not to be used by children under the age of 3.” Another lighthearted moment occurred when two of the women walked home on a windy day with a specially cut 20-square-foot piece of cardboard (to be used for backing the puzzle) from a nearby UPS store, wrestling in the wind with the unwieldy chunk, and no doubt fetching a few puzzled looks from passersby.

The co-op residents came together in April to celebrate the women’s accomplishment and watch the puzzle being hung on a Greenhouse Village wall. Two of the women wore their jigsaw puzzle earrings for the occasion.

Would the three of them ever tackle something like this again? “There’s lots of closets to clean,” Lorraine replies with a laugh.

“Not for a very long while,” Lydia adds.

And Mary, how about you? “Never!” she exclaims.

Denny Lynard can be reached at dlynard@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7823.

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