In Praise Of... Crosswords

My alarm went off at 7am. Why wouldn’t it? It was just another April day in 2015. Immediately as was my habit, I reached for my phone. Squinting at the screen the blur of colours and shapes told me that a text had come through at some point in the night during my oblivious slumber. 

It would take a few minutes of searching for specs and boiling the kettle before I could decipher that there were several missed calls and a couple of texts from my father. 

At 3am, my mother had taken a terrible fall, tripping on the duvet, as she made for the loo. She had a fractured collarbone, broken ribs, blackened eyes and had been rushed in an ambulance to emergency. 

A brief chat with dad revealed that mum was now resting in a high-dependency ward at Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney. On the drive there, I felt terrible. How could I have slept while my parents were in crisis?

And why now? This was meant to be a happy time. My family was in the midst of organising two parties, my mother’s 80th birthday and the celebration of 60 years of marriage to my father. Both events were a week apart, the first in one month. 

I know what you’re thinking. “I thought this story was meant to be about crosswords.” Well, I’m getting to that. 

Arriving in the ward, my mother was unrecognisable. Bruising had bloomed all over her face, neck and shoulders. Her skin was marbled green, blue, pink and puce. I was so frightened for her. But the scene of her sitting in up in that hospital bed propped by pillows, sun streaming in through the window, was oddly prosaic. On the tray in front of her sat coffee and the day’s newspaper - she was doing the crossword.

This was her daily habit, not just formed on retirement. This was something she had done all my life. 

When I was a child, every day the paper would be thrown into our front yard and either my brother or I would race to retrieve it. Someone would make coffee and carry it, slowly, desperately willing it not to spill on her bedroom carpet. We were her little servants, but we loved those jobs, they made us feel very grown up.

The best part of the ritual was being allowed to get under the covers with her, tell her what we’d dreamed the night before, and, if we were really lucky, she’d ask us questions from the crossword. “Do you know another word for stop?”; “Do you know another way to say ‘you’re feeling sick’”? 

And now, despite her current situation and the pain she was in, Mum wanted a sense of normality. Being able to do the crossword affirmed that while she’d had a ‘senior moment’, losing her footing, she wasn’t losing her marbles. 

Completing the crossword in perfect biro block letters gave her a sense of achievement. It was also a lovely way to take her mind off what was happening. It’s not like you can think of anything else when you’re trying to figure out what ‘In single file – 3,5,7’ could possibly mean. 

And of course, there we were again. The clock had been wound back 47 years. I wasn’t in the bed, but we shared the cotton hospital blanket that morning and every morning she was in hospital and later in the rehabilitation facility. 

“Do you know another word for love?”

Do you love a good crossword? Or is there another type of puzzle that you enjoy?

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