Puzzling pastime

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Marie Battiste works on a puzzle in her store located on Charlie’s Head in Port aux Basques. For 12 years she and her sister Geraldine Bird have been doing puzzles to pass the time between customers. — Photo by Brodie Thomas/The Gulf News

By Brodie Thomas TC Media-Port aux Basques They say location is everything when it comes to running a business. If that’s true, Middle Hill Store is perfectly placed right in the middle of the peninsula known throughout Port aux Basques as “Charlie’s Head.” There’s a wall lined with grocery shelves, another with fridges and freezers and a walk-in beer fridge at the back. While it’s perfectly located for the residents of Charlie’s Head, few outsiders or tourists find their way off the main street to Middle Hill Store. But the few who do always seem to comment about the dozens of mounted puzzles plastering the walls above the shelves and fridges. Chances are if you wander into the establishment, you’ll find the store’s owner, Marie Battiste, working away on a puzzle. She has commandeered one of the chest freezers in the middle of the store for her pastime. She works on a sheet of wood, just in case she has to move the puzzle out of the way for a customer seeking some frozen food. She doesn’t mind a bit of help on her puzzles either. “Anyone who pops in — they’re at it,” she said. It’s usually after supper when customers will come in to pick at whichever puzzle Battiste is working on, usually while having a yarn about that day’s news. There’s little free space left on the walls around the store, and only a fraction of the puzzles she completes end up mounted for all to see. “I sort of gave up putting them on the wall,” she said. “We’ve been at this about 10 or 12 years. Me or my sister.” Battiste’s sister Geraldine Bird works at the store during the evenings and weekends. She is also an avid puzzler. Each sister picks up where the other has left off, as they switch shifts. Strategy Getting the border first is the key to solving any puzzle, according to Battiste. “If someone gives me a puzzle and it’s got a piece of the border missing, I fire it in the garbage.” The ones on the wall are almost exclusively 1,000 piece puzzles, though she occasionally tackles 2,000 piece ones. “The black and white ones are the hardest, like that one over there.” She gestures towards the beer cooler door, where a black and white image of the Three Stooges hangs. She swears there was no reason she put that puzzle on the beer fridge, though it seems appropriate. Battiste and her husband Joe have owned the store for 22 years. She’s been working on puzzles for about 12 years. Puzzles weren’t the first past time for her and her sister. “When we started off, we used to do plastic canvas. Then we did paint by numbers.” Puzzles have sort of stuck. She said the children who come in the store especially appreciate them. She said when a child expresses an interest in a certain puzzle she is working on, she will often give it to him or her for their bedroom wall once she finishes it. “There’s not too many kids on Charlie’s Head now. And it’s the summer, they’re all camping.” Adults will ask her to complete puzzles for them as well, if they find an image they like. Those puzzles usually end up on the walls of people’s cabins. “I did the Beatles in black and white for a friend, and it took me a week,” she said. Battiste said business isn’t quite what it was when she started 22 years ago. There are good days and bad days, especially with fewer children around. But she’s not calling it quits anytime soon, with the store or her puzzles. “If I ever have to take them down and paint this place, I don’t think I’d put them back. I’d be standing by the door saying, ‘Here kids, here’s a puzzle.’” The Gulf News

If someone gives me a puzzle and it’s got a piece of the border missing, I fire it in the garbage. Marie Battiste

Organizations: Middle Hill Store, Beatles

Geographic location: Port aux Basques

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