Just a few nights ago I was laying in my bed sleepily sketching out plans for a backyard deck, a gazebo, and garden area that I hoped to build in the event I ever manage to get enough spare time to do so.
The next day I spent my lunch break “window shopping” for the materials at our local Cassity-Jones and Lowe’s building supply stores. I didn’t end up buying anything, but it was nice to be able to get a sense of how much these projects would cost and which place has better deals on the various materials I need.
On the following evening I doodled some more. With a better appreciation for the expense, as well as the likelihood of being able to work on each project, I came up with a design that better reflected what was do-able and what would best complement the current landscape of my home and grounds.
My willowy eldest daughter happened by and asked what I was drawing. As something of a nascent artist herself, she seemed curious as to what her dear ol’ dad was working on. I showed her my sketches and described my plans. She seemed rather interested. With teenagers it’s easy to tell. I’ve found that if they’re not interested in something, they don’t even bother to pretend.
Of course, I have no clear idea for when I’ll be able to get around to these projects. But it’s the sort of thing I think a lot of guys have bouncing around in their minds.
I also think it’s a habit I may have inherited from my father. I recall many evenings seeing him draft a barn, a storage building, or a building addition on a yellow pad of paper while sprawled out watching some manner of sporting event. I recall the wonder I felt when those smooth pencil lines became a standing structure on our family’s estate. As the years wore on, I would look at them and remember.
There were many long afternoons my brother and I spent at my father’s behest. Helping him frame a wall or finish some underpinning. Sometimes we would only need to be available to operate the saw for the measurements he called out or just lend a hand as needed. As a boy I didn’t appreciate this time. I didn’t value the skills I was learning. I couldn’t appreciate the importance of learning what it means to work “by the sweat of the face” until the job was done. These were lessons I could only appreciate in adulthood.
But I wonder if this isn’t a lesson our country needs to learn.
As I walked through the aforementioned home and refurbishing outlets, I couldn’t help but notice how much of the home improvement supplies and materials seem geared toward taking the craftsmanship out of the craft.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with finding a simple solution to a complex problem. “Work smarter not harder” was a mantra drummed into my conscience by my master carpenter father and a steady succession of coaches, teachers, mentors, and even a few of my better supervisors during my days in construction.
But there’s something that gives me pause when I see such a strong cultural inclination for what’s quicker and easier, especially with respect to manufacturing. This is not merely a lament for bygone times, but an observation of something deeper and more profound that seems to be slipping away from us.
Simplify it, dumb it down, make it easy, or just hire a contractor if the job’s too hard. One generation’s craft has become a “chore” for their descendants.
I fear that when we lose a direct connection to the economic foundations of what makes this country not only great but even possible – craftsmanship, manufacturing, construction – we become all too easily disconnected on how to repair the ruins, let alone how to build for the future.
A few days ago I was at a job site where bricklayers were doing masonry work on what I was told is going to be a local business. One of the guys I spoke with was a middle-aged man, working in close tandem with a youngster who seemed in his later teens or early twenties. I made the correct assumption that it was his son.
I asked the son if he was “learning the family business” to someday take over for his father. The two of them laughed heartily.
The son said he was an IT major at UT Tyler but his dad made him work for him during the summers. The father explained to me that he knew his son was going to have an office job eventually, and that was fine with him.
“But I want him to know about this side of things too,” he said. “I want him to know what makes those cushy inside jobs possible.”
During my younger years I was taught how to cultivate my own food, how to perform routine automobile maintenance, and how to improve or even build my own dwelling.
While these are scarcely skills that come in handy during the average workday here at the Henderson Daily News, the value of working with one’s hands to see a task through to completion is one that remains with me constantly.