Our friend Roy cuts an imposing figure when he stands (as he generally does) to greet us. Patriarch of a multi-generational farm family, Roy proves that hard work begets hard workers, a job worth doing is a job worth doing right the first time, and family matters more than anything.
He has strong opinions he’s earned through a lifetime of labor. He wastes nothing — not time, nor words, nor anything else. If you can plant it, Roy can grow it. If you can break it, Roy can fix it.
He is exactly what you’d expect a Northern Wisconsin farmer to be — a Sheepshead-playing, deer hunting, grandchild-cradling friend, the kind of guy who will help tow your car out of a muddy field and not even make fun of you for getting it stuck.
You can trace the story of his life in surprising ways on his big, calloused hands. They can thread a needle, repair an engine and gut a deer with equal and impressive finesse.
The man knows his way around both an embroidery pattern and a jigsaw puzzle. In fact, after my recent tour through some of his masterpieces, I’d say he’s a jigsaw savant.
“If you come up this way, I’ll put your puzzle together,” he kindly offered, after reading about my embarrassing lack of jigsaw skills.
As it turns out, Roy has been putting together jigsaw puzzles since he was in fourth grade and a diagnosis of Bright’s Disease landed him in bed for 16 weeks. That’s also when he picked up the unlikely art of embroidery. He found himself in the hospital again his senior year of high school when his appendix nearly ruptured.
“(President) Eisenhower had the same thing, but I didn’t get the publicity he did,” Roy joked.
The puzzles and needlepoint kept him busy during both convalescences.
“Mike and Ann Watry brought me my first puzzle,” he said. “It was just something to pass the time away. It gave me something to do.”
Since then, he’s put together hundreds of puzzles. He recently completed one for his granddaughter that took him all of two hours. Completed puzzles protected by plexiglass line the walls of his garage, and several gorgeous puzzles also decorate the walls of the immaculate home he shares with his wife of 56 years, Mary Ellen.
I’m mulling over his offer to finish my puzzle for me, which I know he could probably do right in front of me, while we chatted, with one hand tied behind his back.
Mostly, though, I’m just grateful for the time we get to spend with him and his family. They teach us all so much just by the way they matter-of-factly go about their really busy days and still take time to help out a friend.