Gratefulness and Lost Swim Goggles

In 1922, Englishman John Marshall, while serving as the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, took over what looked to be a very big project. To his credit, Marshall had developed a program allowing Indian scholars to join in and even lead the excavations of archaeological sites in their own country.

But when Indian archaeologist and ancient historian R. D. Banerji discovered Mohenjo-daro, the oldest and most well-preserved example of the Indus Valley Civilization dating to about 2500 BC, Marshall stepped in and transferred his esteemed Indian colleague.

R. D. Benerji.
public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ll just leave that right there, however, because this is not a blog post about the ugly bits of imperialism or the misappropriation of historical and scientific credit. This is a blog post about swimming pools. Frankly, I’d rather write about that.

Because Mohenjo-daro features, among other super cool things, what is perhaps the world’s first public swimming pool. At seven by twelve meters and with a maximum depth of 2.4 meters (about 7 1/2 feet), the “Great Bath” isn’t exactly Olympic pool size, but it’s not small, either.

Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro.
Saqib Qayyum / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

The precisely fitted bricks, once covered in plaster and a natural tar, would have made the structure water-tight. The site also features several small rooms, one of which contains a well that in addition to collected rain, probably supplied water to the pool. The other rooms served as storage for kickboards, foam noodles, and a lost-and-found box full of goggles.

In reality, most scholars seem to think the Great Bath was used for religious purposes more than for senior water aerobics and mommy-and-me swim classes, but the purpose of similar structures shifted over time and by the 8th century BC, ancient Greeks were splashing around in courtyard pools for fun and exercise on a sunny afternoon.

That’s not a bad way to pass a hot summer day.

I’m thankful for that, because this past week has been one of emotional ups and downs in my little corner of the world, and particularly in my household. School came to an official, if somewhat disappointing end, with the last of the electronic homework submitted, and then resubmitted because something went wrong the first time. My children and their classmates said emotional, virtual goodbyes to their teachers, who have missed them terribly over the last few months.

I mean, every pool’s got one of these, right?

And now as my kids should be looking forward to summer camps, mission trips, visits with extended family, baseball games, and hangouts with friends, our summer calendar is disturbingly blank. We even had to cancel the reservation for our big fun family vacation because my husband, who works in healthcare, was told his previously scheduled time off could no longer be honored. With the constantly shifting fight against the novel corona virus, his schedule is now determined week by week, making even a small family camping trip difficult to plan.  

But this blog post isn’t about the things we have lost, because there’s far too much to be grateful for. Frankly, I’d rather write about that. Our family is healthy, with a source of income, food on our table, and a comfortable home. And that is quite a lot.

I don’t know if ducks count in the maximum capacity calculation.

We also, miraculously, now have access to an open neighborhood swimming pool. It’s got a smaller maximum capacity this summer and some additional cleaning breaks and rules to keep everyone as safe as possible, but it also has plenty of fresh air and virus-killing sunshine. I’m not sure yet about the lost-and-found box full of goggles.

Still, I think it’s going to be a pretty great summer. And that’s what this blog post is about.

Puzzled Over the Novel Corona Virus

At the start of the 1930s, life looked pretty gloomy here in the United States. What had been a roaring economy had experienced a collapse of the magnitude that sent a lot of previously employed people scrambling to get by. Like so many others, that’s when Frank Ware and John Henriques suddenly found themselves with a lot of time on their hands.

puzzlemania
Just some of the social distance shenanigans that have occurred in my living room in the last few weeks.

I’m sure a lot of us can relate to that particular dilemma. There are, of course, lots of “essential workers” maintaining critical supply lines and taking care of the desperately ill. Many of the rest of us are fortunate enough to be working from home through mandated social distance. But there are a lot of people throughout the US and around the world who have been forced into, hopefully temporary, unemployment while our world works to shake off Covid-19.

And judging from the many pictures on my social media feeds, a lot of folks are turning to jigsaw puzzles to pass the time and keep their minds sharp. That’s exactly what Frank and John did. Frank was a gifted artist and John was a skilled woodworker. Both of them liked puzzles.

And so, the two teamed up to create wooden jigsaw puzzles, ushering in the concept of irregular edges, specially shaped pieces made to order, and a par completion time, so that puzzle-doers could be extra frustrated and also have the pleasure of feeling badly about themselves.

puzzleunfinished
My current living room situation. The dog is loving his puzzle table den.

The puzzles were a hit with a public that didn’t have much entertainment budget. Frank and John filled special orders, but they also began offering many of their puzzles for affordable rent. Each one came in a black box without the benefit of a guiding picture.

As most puzzle manufacturers were looking for ways to mass produce a cheaper product, Frank and John’s “Par puzzles,” were handcrafted, high-quality works of art that found an enthusiastic audience. The rental program ended in the 1960s, but the puzzles have become collectors’ items. And the Par Puzzles Company, begun in 1932 in New York, is still going strong today, continuing to offer unique, high quality, hand-crafted puzzles for upwards of a thousand dollars each.

puzzle shelf
It is my sincere hope we don’t make it through all of these before this is said and done.

According to their website, they even still have a few in stock, which is nice, because rumor has it puzzles are becoming almost as difficult to obtain as toilet paper. I’ll probably stick to the much cheaper mass-produced cardboard version normally available from hobby and discount stores. I enjoy jigsaw puzzles when I’ve got plenty of time to do them. Fortunately, I already have a shelf full of them waiting for a time such as this.

Perhaps I’ll start a rental business.

Stay healthy, my friends!