On my way out of Pharmaca the other day, I saw a pile of jigsaw puzzles for 50% off that stopped me in my tracks.

Wooed by the smiling sloths, and despite the fact that the last time I did a puzzle was as a grouchy, eye-rolling teenager at a pastel Myrtle Beach high-rise rental with my family in 1989, I bought one.

As I settled into the task, a flood of memories arose. Once a year, my father and I would tackle a puzzle like this one together on those weeklong vacation trips to the beach. The coffee table in the rental would be taken over by the pieces, a relaxed contrast to the neat order of our everyday life.

I remembered clearly the two we did multiple times, one a giant multilayered sandwich, the other a more challenging bottle of wine and wineglass against a nearly all-black background.

As these memories arose, a wave of sweet sadness and gratitude for those annual moments with my dad emerged.

In that space, we were equals. We were loving collaborators. We celebrated one another’s successes as we sat, mostly silent but for our “oh YEAH!s” when we clicked pieces together. I trusted that he saw that I was good at this, that I had nothing to prove to him in those moments. He relaxed his need to show me how to do something the right way. We let the love that always bubbled beneath the surface of our connection lead the way, unfettered by our everyday roles.

Father and daughter, disciplinarian and rebel, traditionalist patriarch and radical feminist, conservative and liberal, rule-follower and rule-breaker, Catholic and agnostic, and two hot-headed fighters often at odds with one another, all fell away as we joined forces and delighted in one another’s quiet concentration and vision.

The love was always there. The love is always here.