Fortunately for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Constance Brown, 88, is easy to shop for.
She’s a jigsaw puzzle whiz. The more pieces the better, as far as Brown is concerned.
There are 10 or 15 unopened puzzles waiting her attention in the puzzle niche of the Pasco home she shares with two of her sons.
Her current project is a 1,500-piece image of a chapel painting by the late artist Thomas Kinkade. She’s completed the edges and is fashioning the blue pieces to form the sky. Her glass desk occupies pride of place in the family home – the alcove by the front window.
Stacks of unopened boxes are in arm’s reach, replenished at Christmas and her January birthday. She’ll work on anything, but prefers Christian themes – angels, praying hands, crosses, Jesus and inspirational people, according to son James, her caregiver.
“I do what they buy for me,” she said.
Brown is a retiree, a mother to 10 sons, a four-time cancer survivor and a dedicated dissectologist, the term for those who love jigsaw puzzles.
Her passion for plowing through adversity and completing puzzles has made her a celebrity at her second home, New Hope Baptist Church.
“She is such an inspiration – she has survived cancer and she has arthritis. She has had multiple surgeries. I just admire her tenacity. She just keeps coming back and coming back and coming back,” said Vivian Terrell, a church friend and owner of the Honey Baked Ham franchise in Kennewick.
Terrell suggested Senior Times profile Brown.
Brown said working on puzzles is a key to her longevity.
“It keeps my mind sharp. I have to concentrate on the colors, the shapes,” she said.
She can’t say just how long it takes to complete a puzzle. It depends in part on the number of pieces and the complexity of the image.
But there’s always a moment of satisfaction when the last piece fits in place.
“It makes you feel good,” she said. “There’s a sense of accomplishment.”
She doesn’t sit on her laurels long. Once the completed puzzle is fixed with glue, she sets it aside and reaches for the next one on the pile.
Her sons and visiting grandchildren know better than to lend a hand.
Constance – Connie to her friends – works alone, James said.
“Nobody touches them,” he said.
Brown started with simple puzzles for children and graduated to complex ones, some with 3,000 or more pieces.
She’s survived four cancer surgeries – two on her lungs and two on her colon. She marked her fifth cancer-free anniversary at Christmas.
Puzzling became a passion that helped fill the time.
Born in New Jersey and raised in rural Georgia, the mother of 10 and grandmother of 18 is marking her 10th year in the Tri-Cities.
As a girl in Georgia, she walked to school and helped her sharecropper grandfather working in fields, picking everything from tobacco to cotton.
Later, she would return to New Jersey to raise her sons while working in factories.
The family moved to San Diego at the suggestion of one of her older sons, who had joined the Marines and was stationed there. He wanted his mother and brothers to move out of the inner city. She agreed.
Later, James would move to Pasco for a job and she would follow.
There was, she said, no great trick to raising 10 boys.
She wanted a better life for them than her hardscrabble childhood.
“There’s no secret. You work hard, make sure they are dressed nice, have a proper place to live and you send them to school warm,” she said.
Today, her sons are caregivers, deacons and sing in the church choir.
Terrell credits their mom.
“She raised those boys to be respectable. They are model citizens,” she said.
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