I grew up in a home without a dad. I had no experience in auto mechanics, woodworking, plumbing or harnessing electricity. So, when the Jr. High required that I take woodshop in the 7th grade. I didn’t even know which end of the hammer was the business end. I went into the class knowing nothing and expecting nothing. But I wanted to make something I could be proud of none the less.

Our project, (and what we would be graded on), was to build an offset book stand for your desk or tabletop. The project was designed to teach us some basics in using hand tools. we would have to use a hand saw, a hammer, a chisel, and a block sander.

The woodshop teacher was about Five foot four inches, always had a sour look on his face, wore a Marine Corps issue brush cut and made sure we knew he was a Marine. Mr. Wallenberg, (Who we would all call “Wally” behind his back), would always tell us stories about past students that had done great bodily harm to themselves because they “refused to listen to him.” He regaled us with the story of the one kid that almost cut his finger off with a hand saw and the other dummy who impaled himself with a chisel and how there was blood everywhere. He also let us know about the past student who somehow knocked himself out with a hammer. I can’t say that these lectures did a thing to help my confidence that I would get through the class unharmed.

As I said the fact that I had no experience with any kind of tools, (not even a pocket knife or a tape measure), so I came into my first construction experience feeling totally inadequate. We were given the three pieces of wood we would need for the project, (Wally would cut them as he did not deem anyone in the class qualified on a table saw. Thank goodness.). These three pieces of pine would be measured, chiseled, sawn, sanded and stained.

It didn’t take me long to figure out how incompetent I was. The first step was to measure where a groove would go to hold the upright. We had to measure down each side of the long piece of wood and mark where the 3/4″ slot would go and then cut on both sides with the saw. Wally pointed out that the lines I had drawn were not square to the base, (“What the heck did that mean?”), So I erased the lines, (finding out that once you draw on the wood you can’t erase), and Wally pointed out my pencil error as well. I found out that I couldn’t use a tape measure, a square or glue properly.

In the days ahead I would be frustrated with my lack of expertise in using the hand saw, the chisel, the hammer, and the red oak stain. It seemed like no matter what the tool was or how much I tried to use them correctly I could not make it work or even come up to Wally’s minimal expectations. So the groove for the upright came out deeper on one side than the other, The boot on the back is angled the wrong way, the pencil marks are still there and show through the stain, (the stain is layered on in some places and very thin in others), I was even able to chip parts of the wood with the block sander. I was disappointed with the outcome and when Wally gave the project a C+ I didn’t complain; at least it was a passing grade.

I wasn’t lucky enough to sneak the project into the trash when I got home. My mom saw me coming and asked, “What did you make?” To my amazement, she fell in love with it, imperfections and all. She made me tell her about every step and that l what I had to do to make it. I was amazed that anyone would fawn over this piece of junk. But mom did. From that day forward until the day she died that ugly book stand sat on our kitchen table. Today it still sits on my office desk.

I learned that my expectations may have altered the end result of this project but after it was all said and done I did have something I was proud of; a mom who loved me for me, not my stuff…I want to be that kind of parent, don’t you?

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