The king of crossword puzzles

My father was the king of crossword puzzles … so starts a poem I wrote a few years ago.  He loved working through the tiny squares, pen in hand.  Words and word games were a passion of his.  When kids in the classroom ask me about my early writing influences, I proudly say, “My father!”

Growing up, he taught me to love cryptograms and word scrambles, dictionaries and various kinds of convoluted language.  Crossword puzzles though, were his domain.  I never developed the knack (or interest) he had with them.  For some reason last night, I picked up a magazine with a crossword on the back page and completed it … in pen.  And this morning I woke up thinking about my dad.

My father had a massive (left-side of his brain) stroke at age 77.  The following years were obviously difficult for him (and us), yet he maintained a mostly positive attitude, with a continued interest in life and living.  Though he could no longer speak, he was still able to have a ‘conversation’ and always … an opinion.  He’d sing along to music and enjoyed ‘The Price is Right’ and ‘Jeopardy’ (and ‘Jerry Springer’ … ouch!).  And he loved, loved, loved going for rides in the car!

As his daughter, I was fascinated with all he was still capable of and believe it was primarily related to how well he’d always taken care of his brain.  “There is quite solid evidence that staying physically and mentally active is a way toward brain maintenance,” says researcher and Umea University professor of neuroscience, Lars Nyberg.

I know this ‘use it or lose it’ attitude is not new, but sometimes we still need to hear it.  When we were told our mother had vascular dementia, we were given pages of hobbies and word games she could play to help slow the progress of the disease.  When I’m in line at the grocery store and hand the clerk $20, I like to do the change-back in my head.  I memorize poetry, create mosaic art and enjoy reading most anything.  The brain is a muscle, requiring exercise.

Lately, I’m loving online Scrabble.  Just started a game with my niece in Germany and my brother has yet to win one 🙂

Here are a few games from the AARP website –

And a good article from Huffington Post –

Four Letter Word

My father was the king
of crossword puzzles.
Every weeknight
he’d come home from work
covered in grease and engine grime.
After a quick shower,
the first thing he’d do
was the evening paper’s puzzle,
in the time it took my mother and me
to put dinner on the table.

My father always did
the crossword puzzle in pen,
never questioning
once a square was filled.
He parented in much the same way –
once spoken, no taking back.
No need to check tomorrow
for today’s answers.

Back then,
a morning newspaper was also delivered.
He’d do that puzzle
in the bathroom before work.
Sunday morning crosswords were the bomb.
Practically the entire page checkered,
across and down clues
squeezed in underneath.
And on the facing page
along with Dear Abby,
was the cryptogram and word jumble
he’d save for me.
As a young girl
he taught me the art of hidden meaning,
a love of words and language
that spills over and floods
my life as a poet.

Some of my best memories
are coming home from church,
my father still in bed
propped up on pillows,
large and invincible.
I’d bring him a fresh cup of coffee
and he’d hand me the cryptogram.
Climbing up beside him
I’d huddle until Sunday dinner –
knees bent beneath me,
chin in hand, chewing the pen cap
while working through patterns and clues
the way he taught me.

The other day on a subway in NYC
the young man beside me
is tentatively doing the Times crossword,
using a pencil and eraser.
Furtively I watch
as he struggles with 10 down,
eraser dust all over his black Armani suit.
A four-letter word
beginning with L –
to define.

Elizabeth Thomas

The old house…


About hereisakiss

Daughter Writer Art's Educator
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3 Responses to The king of crossword puzzles

  1. hereisakiss says:

    From my friend, Jane –
    Dear Elizabeth, Does this one ever speak to me! My father taught ME to love word games, crosswords, jigsaws, the works, and of course I’m still addicted. Once when I won a puzzle contest in Old Lyme of somewhere there was a picture of me in The Day, I think it was, with the caption Puzzle Queen! Love, Jane

  2. After I read your entry I wrote this poem, I hope you like it

    What My Father Taught Me

    My father taught me
    To love my car
    And all the wonderful places it took me
    Near and far
    I remember the summer
    When he placed me in the seat
    And we drove down to Florida
    A trip that will never be beat
    We spent a month
    Going cost to cost
    I loved the Atlantic
    He loved the Gulf the most
    I remember the a trip
    To New hampshire we took
    I stood on a slide
    And walked beside a brook
    We drove up Mount Washington
    We saw the Old Man
    All of it was free
    None of it was planned
    That was how it was
    Just how it was always done
    Nothing else mattered
    As long as it was fun
    I remember these trips
    Treasures in my heart they are
    And all the wonderful times my Father and I had
    While we traveled in the car
    I miss you, Dad
    I wish you were here
    To give me the answers
    To make things clear
    You always had a word
    Advice to pass along
    You always had a way
    That made me feel I belonged
    I miss you, Dad
    It hurts so bad
    I wish you could hold me
    And tell me not to be sad
    But now that you’re gone
    So long gone away
    I’m just left with your memory
    To get me through the day
    But I still have a car
    And all the potential it can be
    And I know when I’m traveling
    You travel beside me
    So let’s take a trip
    Just you and I
    We’ll travel along the roads
    Until this life has passed me by
    And then we’ll be together
    A family once more
    We’ll party on the beach
    And walk along the shore

    By Christopher L Thomas

  3. hereisakiss says:

    Dad did love to drive!! I could never figure out how he knew when the traffic light was going to turn green 🙂 So many times I also remember just ‘going for a ride’ with him. He’d let me ‘navigate’ and get us lost. Love you, Chris…

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