The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Robin L. Quillon

February 10, 2013

Robin L. Quillon | Life, like puzzles, best lived in small pieces

— Someone once said, “Life by the yard is hard, but life by the inch is a cinch.”

My sweet, late Aunt Edith loved putting together the big, 1,000-piece puzzles. She was an accountant by trade and, therefore, possessed the patience to tackle the “big boy” puzzles. I struggle today with the “Big Bird” puzzles that consist of 50 pieces. Usually, I wind up flicking open my trusty Barlow knife and making the stubborn piece fit.

Folks, in seconds flat, I can pound in a puzzle piece that won’t fit. 

I really don’t remember ever going to her home on Azalea Avenue and not seeing a big puzzle in progress on that old, four-legged green card table tucked in the corner of her kitchen.

Every year, family would gather for reunions in her home and invariably wind up at that table jabbering away like a bunch of monkeys in a tree, working on a puzzle.

Life was sure simple back then – eating dinner at the table as a family, no cellphones, no Internet, no computers, three channels on the TV (only if the antenna was jiggered just right), leased rotary phones anchored to a wall and sporting a 50-foot cord, and puzzles.

As a kid, I recall leaning over the card table and looking at the massive pile of jumbled puzzle pieces, some right side up and others facedown, thinking there was no way in the world she could ever put this together.

The picture on the box was of a beautiful, snowcapped mountain; with blue skies; soft, billowy clouds; colorful, leafy trees; a clear stream with jumping trout; and deer grazing in the foreground.

This scene on the box was the goal and a far cry from the scattered mess on the card table. Again, as a youngster, I thought, “No way!”

My aunt would invite me over, sit me on her lap and tell me the secret to putting this puzzle together. She would say, “Now, Honey, don’t get too far ahead of yourself; it’s all about fitting one piece at a time.”

Her next secret to tackling this big project was turning over all of the pieces so we could see what they looked like. Then she asked me to find all the pieces that had any blue in them and put them in this pile.

Then I would find all the pieces with brown in them and put them in that pile.

She then asked me to find all the pieces with rounded edges and put them in another pile.

Soon, we had many piles of pieces in neat groups. Over the course of weeks, we would tackle this puzzle one piece, one pile and one phase at a time. We never rushed and she, because of her experience, never doubted we would be able to finish.

The excitement would grow as the pieces came together.

Soon, the jumbled mess inched closer and closer to resembling the photo on the box.

I remember as if it were yesterday – my sweet aunt letting me put the 1,000th piece in place. I was smiling like a possum chewing on briars, as I ever-so-gently pressed the blue-sky piece in place to complete the puzzle. Cocking my head sideways to admire our accomplishment, I hugged her and said with typical childlike excitement, “We did it!” 

“Indeed, we did,” Aunt Edith said. “One piece at a time.”

“Life by the yard is hard, but life by the inch is a cinch.”


Robin L. Quillon is the publisher of The Tribune-Democrat and senior vice

president, Allegheny Division, of CNHI News Service. He can be reached at

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Robin L. Quillon

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

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