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Woodscraft 10: Shop Rules

16 08 2014

Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

That precept is not in the Bible.  People may think it is, but it isn’t.  The man who made a point to preach it — John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist churches — seemed to think that it ought to be. My parents and both pairs of my grandparents lived as if it were. 

Slovenliness, to use Wesley’s term, had no place in our family.  Could I follow the fashion of the day and dress the way the other boys did?  In warm weather, fad dictated  wearing one’s shirt outside one’s pants and with all the buttons undone, revealing the white T-shirt underneath.  Not I, however … at least, not within sight of my mother or father.

If the T-shirt for some reason had to be visible, it had better be white.  Snow white.  And don’t even think about rolling up its short sleeves.

If pants or trousers had belt loops, then a belt was to be worn passing underneath every loop. 

The legs of dress pants were long enough to touch the tops of the feet.  The creases along the pant legs were to be sharp and crisp with exactly one kink.

The sleeves of dress shirts reached to the back of the hands.  The cuffs of suit coats and sports jackets went to the wrist.  Between one-quarter and one-half inch of shirt cuff was to be visible below.

And by the way, one did not put his hands in his pockets unless he was getting something out: a pen, some money, a handkerchief, a stick of gum, something. Otherwise, “Keep your hands out of your pockets.”  Why?  It looked slovenly.  Worse, it looked indolent: lazy, habitually lazy.  Hands were made to do something worthwhile, something productive, something enterprising.  Hands should not be so idle that they had nothing to do other than loaf in pockets.

And so it went.  Not just with regard to dress, either.

Litter was disgraceful.  One ought not throw it anywhere.  One ought not allow it anywhere on one’s property, not for one day, if possible, and certainly not by the coming Sunday.

Fencerows were to be clean of weeds.  So, too, gardens, crop fields, and pastures.  Fields in the spring and fall had better be tilled clean of all residue (regardless of the potential for exposed soil being eroded by wind and rain).  Furrows plowed through fields must be straight as a beam of light.

When it came to housework, my mother strove mightily every day except Sunday.  Her home would always ready to serve as a guest location for any of the popular family situational comedies seen on television.

My father kept his trucks in fine condition, but they tended to look as though a working man worked them.  My mother, however, kept her cars in showroom condition.  One dared not throw or kick or shoot anything if her car gleamed anywhere within range.

As for my father’s shop, there was a place for everything, and everything was to be in its place.  That meant tools, every one of which everyone treated as if it were made of sterling.  That also meant, at the end of every work day, all wood scraps went into bins, all wood shavings went into barrels, and all wood dust went into vacuum cleaners.

No Smoking

That made sense, of course, what with wood and wood residue all over the place.  But the shop rule went further than that.  Neither of my parents smoked, and neither approved of smoking.  (That didn’t keep my father’s father from smoking his imported German pipes on occasion.)

Now, back in those days, tobacco products existed everywhere.  About the only place one could go to get away from tobacco smoke and spittle was inside a church sanctuary. 

Advertisements for tobacco products presented themselves everywhere: in newspapers and magazines, on billboards, on the radio, and on television.

And candy versions of tobacco products for kids were everywhere.  They included cigarettes, cigars, and even chewing tobacco.  The ‘chaw’ was bubble gum.  So, too, were the cigars; they came in pink, green, and yellow.  Candy cigarettes came as paper-wrapped chocolate.  The candy looked a lot like the real thing in their suave plastic cases, but the look had to be spoiled to get at the candy.  Candy cigarettes also came in hard mint form packaged in boxes that mimicked real brands available.  Each piece was white with some red food coloring added at one end to give it that lit-up look.  It tasted terrible.  One may as well have eaten the real tobacco product flavored with menthol.

Cowboys smoked.  My mother, who let me use fake guns, would not let me use fake cigarettes.  A pal of mine gave me a pack once.  Only once.  The first time my mother saw me riding around the yard sucking — or trying not to suck — on one of those candies, she quickly had something to say.  “Get that filthy thing out of your mouth.  You look and smell like a demon.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“What do you mean, smell?  This is mint.  Sort of.”

“Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Act like it.  Spit that thing out.”

But not on the ground.  No littering.  The whole package of candy went into the garbage can, and I had to rely on toothpicks thereafter.

No Drinking

My father had every intention of making it to retirement with all his fingers intact.  He would say, “When working, one must be alert, under control, and in command.”  He meant working anywhere,  but his precept applied especially in his shop, what with all that electricity and all those power tools with all those sharp edges.

My mother would recite, “Who hath woe?  Who hath sorrow?  Who hath contentions?  Who hath babbling?  Who hath wounds without cause?  Who hath redness of eyes?  They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.  Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.  At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.”

Her father had a souvenir of the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, a sheet of paper posted in his workshop at the farm.  “Don’t succumb to the evil pleasures of Mr. Booze!” implored the headline near a cartoon of a bottle.  Why?  “It’s illegal.  It’s expensive.  It tastes terrible.  It burns when it goes down.  It gives you bad breath.  It makes you sick.  It makes you stupid.  In short, it’s foolish!”

No Cussing

My mother would have preferred “No Cursing” to the slang spelling.  My father explained that “cussing” referred to all expletives whether profane or obscene.  That pleased her well enough, though she herself didn’t stop there.

She would not tolerate the use of any of the four-letter words that, at the time, were banned from radio and television.  Neither would she tolerate any of the allegedly sanitized versions of those words.  That meant I was not allowed to say such words as “heck” and “darn”. 

“They refer to profane words,” she would say.  “They are derived from profane words.  They have the same profane meanings.” 

“And it is not right to make light of hellfire and damnation,” my father would say.  “You have no authority over either.  You should not wish either on any one or any thing of God’s creation.  Only He has the right and the might to do such cursing.”

“What about the Devil and his doings?” I asked.  “Can’t even he be cursed?”

My mother said, “Do as the Scripture records and say, ‘The Lord rebuke thee’.”

The same prohibition applied to such expressions as “gosh” and “golly” and even “by gar” as well as to “gee” and “gee whiz” and “jeepers”.

The mother of a friend of mine did not have the habit of cursing.  I did hear her often say instead, “God bless America!”  I asked my mother whether she thought that was all right.

“I don’t think so,” she answered.  “Not unless she’s praying.”  Then she asked me, “Kurt, what is the Second Commandment?”

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” I recited.

“And what does vain mean?”

I thought about it.  “Stuck up.”

“Well, yes.  It does mean being possessed of a selfish and haughty pride.  The word means more than that, though, at least in old English.  Taking something in vain means to treat it as though it were empty, worthless, or futile.  Today’s meaning of vain comes from that older meaning.  A person who is vain is taking pride in someone who, apart from God, is worth less than dead grass cast into an oven, as the Scripture says. 

“But God is not worthless.  He is Creator and King of all Creation.  He is Light and Love and Life.  He is our Refuge, the fortress Rock of our salvation.  He is our Father; hallowed be His name. 

“One does not mention the name of God without all due consideration, without reverence and respect.  He is Light; one does not treat His name lightly.

“Words are important, son.  By saying the Word, God created all the heavens and the earth.  By sending the Word, God sent life and light.  We behold the Word’s glory, full of grace and truth.  We have been given the ability to speak and to hear words, to write and to read words.  The Word of God communicates essential grace and truth to us, and we can communicate via the Word to Him.  By the Word we communicate, we commune with God.  By the word we communicate, we commune with one another. 

“Words, therefore, should not be vain.  They should be full of grace and truth.  As Jesus said, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.  A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.  An evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.  I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment’.”

My mother made sure I got that message by holding me to account for my idle words.  If something from my mouth made her expression turn sour, something sour would go into my mouth: vinegar.  Too this day, I cannot eat German potato salad without thinking of my mother and what she said to me.

My father said to me, “Well done, Kurt,” when I presented my new walnut rifle stock and foregrip.  He held both pieces in his hands as if he were inspecting them for the first time.  That wasn’t true, of course.  He had worked with me as I worked with them through every part of the process. 

One piece in each hand, he alternated hefting them.  He studied each piece from front to back and from side to side.  He nodded.  He tucked one piece under an arm so that he could run his hand along the other.  He nodded again.  “Yup,” he said.  “I reckon these’ll do just fine.  You can take ‘em over to Hank, and he’ll get ‘em together on the gun.”

“Oh,” I said.  “But Hank is gone fishing.  When I was over there this morning, he said he’d be gone all afternoon.  Don’t you think you can do it?”

He did.  And he did. 

 woodcraft 1





Woodcraft 9: Shop Rules

8 08 2014

No Blood on or in the Machinery. 

No Blood on the Tools or on the Woodwork. 

No Blood on the Tables, the Benches, or the Floor.

 

That was my father’s way of saying, “Be careful.  Observe all the safety protocols.”

He asked me, “What does the Bible say about blood?”

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins,” I answered, as though I were reciting the catechism at school.

“And why is blood so important?”

“The life is in the blood,” I recited.

“And what does that mean?”

I thought about it.  That one, I couldn’t answer.

“You probably haven’t gotten that far in school yet,” my father said.  “Listen.  You know that you breathe, right?”

“Right.”  I didn’t think much about it since breathing is automatic, but of course I knew I did it.

“Air goes into your lungs.  Your heart pumps blood to your lungs to pick up air.  Oxygen, to be more specific.  Your heart then pumps the air-loaded blood to all the other parts of your body.  All those parts, down to the smallest cells, need air.  That’s why you need air.  Right?”

“Right.”

“What does the Bible say about the creation of man?”

“It says that God made Adam from the dust of the ground, and then He breathed life into him.”

“Right.  Man’s body is made from the elements of the earth.  Man’s spirit is made from the Breath of Heaven.  From the Divine Wind, as the Japanese might say.  The old English said the Holy Ghost.  The writers of the Bible, whether using Hebrew or Greek, used words made like plywood for the Spirit.  The words had many meanings glued together to try to make the concept work well in human language: air, wind, breath, even ghost.”

I wondered whether they might have thought of fog.  I was getting confused.

My father asked, “What did Jesus say about God?  How did He describe Him in short?”

“Jesus said God is Spirit.”

“And has anyone seen God?”

“No one has seen God at any time.  No one can see God and live,” I recited.

“Right.  No one except…”

I had to think for a moment.  “Oh.  Well, no one except Jesus Christ, the Son of Man and the Son of God.”

“Right.  As He said; as it is written.  And Jesus also said, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father’.”  My father looked me in the eye.  “Have you seen Jesus?”

Again, I paused.  I didn’t quite know how to answer that, so I decided to be strictly honest.  “No.”

“Neither have I,” my father said.  “That’s why Jesus said, ‘If ye love Me, keep My commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.  But ye know Him, for He dwelleth with you and shall be in you.  I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.’ 

“There is that within us,” my father said, “that makes us living souls.  It comes not from within ourselves.  It comes from without.  It comes not from within the earth.  It comes from heaven.  As Elihu told Job, if God were to ‘gather unto Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.’  That spirit, that breath is, as the French might say, élan vitale: a vital, enthusing vigor.  Quickening is the old English word you’ve seen in the Scripture: an enlivening.  It’s something God breathes into us to make us alive.  It’s Something we breath in from God in order to live.”

“That’s the life that’s in the blood?” I asked.

“Yes, in a manner of speaking. The air carried in the blood is a symbol of the spirit given us.  It is that spirit that makes us among all creatures special: the image of God.  It is that Holy Spirit of God, spilling in the blood from the Son of God onto the woodwork of the cross, that kills sin and re-creates us to be what we were meant to be.  ‘But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’.”

woodcraft 8





Woodcraft 8: Shop Rules

2 08 2014

My father once let me try my hand at making a walnut stock and foregrip for my toy Winchester, the one that shot round corks.  I had thought for some time about asking him to do it for me.  I also wondered whether he would approve.

My mother would have done it, no questions asked.  She often did things for me at my request, as long as I didn’t demand that she drop whatever she was doing and get right to it.  She made a vest for me once that looked like one a TV cowboy would wear, using scrap leather from her parents’ farm.  They often slaughtered and butchered their own beef.  My mother was not a wood worker, though, so she wouldn’t think of attempting anything of the sort, and certainly not with a master craftsman in the household.

Her father would have done it, too, no questions asked.  Alas, Grandpa would not have used genuine walnut.  Instead, he would have taken the stockman’s knife out of his pants pocket, selected a couple of chunks of linden firewood, and commenced whittling.  Linden, also known as basswood, is an excellent choice for wood carving.  It’s light, relatively soft, easily worked, and has an even grain.  In addition, it’s weak, has low resistance to shock, and doesn’t hold up to weathering and decay unless painted or otherwise covered.

I didn’t want the stock and foregrip on my rifle to be painted or stained to look sort of like walnut.  I wanted walnut.

Grandpa would have thought that basswood would be plenty good enough. After all, my rifle was only a toy.  How long would the woodwork have to work, anyway?  I’d probably stop playing with the gun well before it fell apart.  His was not unreasonable thinking, but my father said that walnut was the best, and I wanted the best.

So, one day one summer I went into my father’s shop, checked my gun at the door, and stood waiting to gain his attention.  Soon enough, he saw me.  At a place in his work when he could take a break, he stopped, stepped over to me, and said, “Hello.  What may I do for you, sir?”  He would do that sometimes: treat me like a customer or client.

I took my hat off and held it in both hands.  “Good morning, sir.  It seems I need a new stock and foregrip for my rifle.  You see, it doesn’t shoot straight anymore.  I took it to the gunsmith to have him correct the aim, and he said the metal parts are fine.”  There was no gunsmith, of course.  I made him up.  I was pretty good at playing pretend.  “He recommended that I come to you and have the gun fitted with properly seasoned walnut.”

“Ah,” my father said.  “Yeah, Hank sends customers over my way every now and then.”  My father could play pretend, too.  “So, let’s take a look at your rifle.”

I went back to the doorway and retrieved my Winchester.  I carried it to my father and handed it to him in the way he had taught me so as to insure safety.  He had seen the toy many times, but this time he looked it over to discern whether the plastic pieces could be exchanged for wooden ones.  “Well,” he said after some many moments, “I reckon something can be done here.”

I smiled.

My father added, “I figure it’ll cost you ten dollars.”

“Ten dollars?”  My weekly allowance had only just gone from ten cents to twenty-five cents.  I frowned.

“Don’t have it, eh?”

“Nope.”

“Well now,” he continued, putting a hand to his chin and looking up at the ceiling.  “I suppose I could let you use the shop and do the work yourself.  I’ve got some spare walnut here that you could have cheap.”

Cheap?  “I don’t want cheap,” I said.  “I want good stuff.”

My father looked at me.  “I understand. Come with me, please.”

We walked to another part of the shop, to a place where he had an assortment of lumber.  He cradled my rifle in the crook of his left arm.  With his right hand, he slid from a stack a short walnut board.  He looked at it and put it in his left hand.  He pulled another walnut board and looked that one over.

We then stepped over to a bench.  My father laid the rifle carefully on top and placed the two walnut pieces parallel to it.  “What do you think?”

They looked fine.  I could easily visualize how the wood would look on my Winchester.  But my father had said, “Cheap.”  How cheap?  So I asked, “How much?”

“Four bits.”

That was all of fifty cents.  I nodded.

Next came consideration of the labor necessary.  My father had let me handle wood and work with tools for some time.  It seems I can remember my father letting me pound away on one thing or another with a rawhide mallet when I could barely walk.  I can also remember sanding away at various pieces of maple when helping to make my set of blocks.  Later came pounding nails into scrap lumber with a real claw hammer.  Then came sawing and pounding scrap lumber together to make what we used to call a ground fort.  That was like a tree house, except it wasn’t perched in a tree.  I had also made simple bird houses and bird feeders, a rack for holding keys for use in the house, and a rack for my little red wagon.

I put a hand to my chin.  After some more thought, I asked, “Okay, when can I start?”

“You may start now, if you want.”

“Sure.”  And so I went at it.

The task wasn’t all that complicated.  I had the advantage of being able to use the two plastic pieces as patterns for my woodwork.  My father gave me some scrap pine on which to practice first so as not to ruin the walnut.  The main thing was being patient and painstaking enough to get the fit and the finish just right.

My father wouldn’t let me use any of the power tools.  It wasn’t necessary.  Doing everything by hand using old-fashioned hand tools worked well, especially with my father’s on-going instruction.  In the process, I learned how to use a vise, a couple of saws, a plane, a mallet and a number of chisels, different grades of sandpaper, even an adz and a drawshave.

I also became better acquainted with the shop rules, posted on a wall where they could be seen from any place in the work area.  My father almost always worked alone.  One may wonder why he thought it necessary actually to write and display rules for himself.  But there they were. Here’s one:

Wood Is Good. Be Good with It. 

That was my father’s way of saying what my mother would often say: “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”  My father believed in craftsmanship.  Old world, new world, whatever, excellence was important.

He said to me, “Son, God created the cosmos.  At the conclusion of each project, what did He say?”

“Well, the Bible says that God spoke, and things happened.  Then it says that He saw what happened, and that what happened was good.”

He put a hand to my shoulder.  “Quite right, Kurt.  Quite right.”  He went on to say, “And God created human beings in His own image, both male and female.  Being creatures created in the image of God, we are ourselves capable — at least in potential — we are capable ourselves of being creative.  And if, as the Prophets and the Apostles teach us, we are to conform to the image of God, then whatever we create should be good, too.  God and good go together.  We as the image of God should be good, and the images we create should also be good.”

to be continued …

woodcraft 1





A Forest Hymn

14 01 2013

spring green

The groves were God’s first temples. Ere man learned
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
And spread the roof above them,—ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood,
Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down,
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks
And supplication. For his simple heart
Might not resist the sacred influences,
Which, from the stilly twilight of the place,
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven
Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound
Of the invisible breath that swayed at once
All their green tops, stole over him, and bowed
His spirit with the thought of boundless power
And inaccessible majesty. Ah, why
Should we, in the world’s riper years, neglect
God’s ancient sanctuaries, and adore
Only among the crowd, and under roofs,
That our frail hands have raised? Let me, at least,
Here, in the shadow of this aged wood,
Offer one hymn—thrice happy, if it find
Acceptance in His ear.

tree's eye view

Father, thy hand
Hath reared these venerable columns, thou
Didst weave this verdant roof. Thou didst look down
Upon the naked earth, and, forthwith, rose
All these fair ranks of trees. They, in thy sun,
Budded, and shook their green leaves in the breeze,
And shot towards heaven. The century-living crow,
Whose birth was in their tops, grew old and died
Among their branches, till, at last, they stood,
As now they stand, massy, and tall, and dark,
Fit shrine for humble worshipper to hold
Communion with his Maker. These dim vaults,
These winding aisles, of human pomp and pride
Report not. No fantastic carvings show
The boast of our vain race to change the form
Of thy fair works. But thou art here—thou fill’st
The solitude. Thou art in the soft winds
That run along the summit of these trees
In music; thou art in the cooler breath
That from the inmost darkness of the place
Comes, scarcely felt; the barky trunks, the ground,
The fresh moist ground, are all instinct with thee.
Here is continual worship;—Nature, here,
In the tranquility that thou dost love,
Enjoys thy presence. Noiselessly, around,
From perch to perch, the solitary bird
Passes; and yon clear spring, that, midst its herbs,
Wells softly forth and wandering steeps the roots
Of half the mighty forest, tells no tale
Of all the good it does. Thou hast not left
Thyself without a witness, in these shades,
Of thy perfections. Grandeur, strength, and grace
Are here to speak of thee. This mighty oak—
By whose immovable stem I stand and seem
Almost annihilated—not a prince,
In all that proud old world beyond the deep,
E’er wore his crown as lofty as he
Wears the green coronal of leaves with which
Thy hand has graced him. Nestled at his root
Is beauty, such as blooms not in the glare
Of the broad sun. That delicate forest flower
With scented breath, and look so like a smile,
Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould,
An emanation of the indwelling Life,
A visible token of the upholding Love,
That are the soul of this wide universe.

black and white

My heart is awed within me when I think
Of the great miracle that still goes on,
In silence, round me—the perpetual work
Of thy creation, finished, yet renewed
Forever. Written on thy works I read
The lesson of thy own eternity.
Lo! all grow old and die—but see again,
How on the faltering footsteps of decay
Youth presses—-ever gay and beautiful youth
In all its beautiful forms. These lofty trees
Wave not less proudly that their ancestors
Moulder beneath them. Oh, there is not lost
One of earth’s charms: upon her bosom yet,
After the flight of untold centuries,
The freshness of her far beginning lies
And yet shall lie. Life mocks the idle hate
Of his arch enemy Death—yea, seats himself
Upon the tyrant’s throne—the sepulchre,
And of the triumphs of his ghastly foe
Makes his own nourishment. For he came forth
From thine own bosom, and shall have no end.

evening willows

There have been holy men who hid themselves
Deep in the woody wilderness, and gave
Their lives to thought and prayer, till they outlived
The generation born with them, nor seemed
Less aged than the hoary trees and rocks
Around them;—and there have been holy men
Who deemed it were not well to pass life thus.
But let me often to these solitudes
Retire, and in thy presence reassure
My feeble virtue. Here its enemies,
The passions, at thy plainer footsteps shrink
And tremble and are still. Oh, God! when thou
Dost scare the world with falling thunderbolts, or fill,
With all the waters of the firmament,
The swift dark whirlwind that uproots the woods
And drowns the village; when, at thy call,
Uprises the great deep and throws himself
Upon the continent, and overwhelms
Its cities—who forgets not, at the sight
Of these tremendous tokens of thy power,
His pride, and lays his strifes and follies by?
Oh, from these sterner aspects of thy face
Spare me and mine, nor let us need the wrath
Of the mad unchained elements to teach
Who rules them. Be it ours to meditate,
In these calm shades, thy milder majesty,
And to the beautiful order of the works
Learn to conform the order of our lives.

William Cullen Bryant
autumn understory

 

 





10: Shop Rules

23 12 2012

Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

That precept is not in the Bible.  People may think it is, but it isn’t.  The man who made a point to preach it — John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist churches — seemed to think that it ought to be. My parents and both pairs of my grandparents lived as if it were. 

Slovenliness, to use Wesley’s term, had no place in our family.  Could I follow the fashion of the day and dress the way the other boys did?  In warm weather, fad dictated  wearing one’s shirt outside one’s pants and with all the buttons undone, revealing the white T-shirt underneath.  Not I, however … at least, not within sight of my mother or father.

If the T-shirt for some reason had to be visible, it had better be white.  Snow white.  And don’t even think about rolling up its short sleeves.

If pants or trousers had belt loops, then a belt was to be worn passing underneath every loop. 

The legs of dress pants were long enough to touch the tops of the feet.  The creases along the pant legs were to be sharp and crisp with exactly one kink.

The sleeves of dress shirts reached to the back of the hands.  The cuffs of suit coats and sports jackets went to the wrist.  Between one-quarter and one-half inch of shirt cuff was to be visible below.

And by the way, one did not put his hands in his pockets unless he was getting something out: a pen, some money, a handkerchief, a stick of gum, something. Otherwise, “Keep your hands out of your pockets.”  Why?  It looked slovenly.  Worse, it looked indolent: lazy, habitually lazy.  Hands were made to do something worthwhile, something productive, something enterprising.  Hands should not be so idle that they had nothing to do other than loaf in pockets.

And so it went.  Not just with regard to dress, either.

Litter was disgraceful.  One ought not throw it anywhere.  One ought not allow it anywhere on one’s property, not for one day, if possible, and certainly not by the coming Sunday.

Fencerows were to be clean of weeds.  So, too, gardens, crop fields, and pastures.  Fields in the spring and fall had better be tilled clean of all residue (regardless of the potential for exposed soil being eroded by wind and rain).  Furrows plowed through fields must be straight as a beam of light.

When it came to housework, my mother strove mightily every day except Sunday.  Her home would always ready to serve as a guest location for any of the popular family situational comedies seen on television.

My father kept his trucks in fine condition, but they tended to look as though a working man worked them.  My mother, however, kept her cars in showroom condition.  One dared not throw or kick or shoot anything if her car gleamed anywhere within range.

As for my father’s shop, there was a place for everything, and everything was to be in its place.  That meant tools, every one of which everyone treated as if it were made of sterling.  That also meant, at the end of every work day, all wood scraps went into bins, all wood shavings went into barrels, and all wood dust went into vacuum cleaners.

No Smoking

That made sense, of course, what with wood and wood residue all over the place.  But the shop rule went further than that.  Neither of my parents smoked, and neither approved of smoking.  (That didn’t keep my father’s father from smoking his imported German pipes on occasion.)

Now, back in those days, tobacco products existed everywhere.  About the only place one could go to get away from tobacco smoke and spittle was inside a church sanctuary. 

Advertisements for tobacco products presented themselves everywhere: in newspapers and magazines, on billboards, on the radio, and on television.

And candy versions of tobacco products for kids were everywhere.  They included cigarettes, cigars, and even chewing tobacco.  The ‘chaw’ was bubble gum.  So, too, were the cigars; they came in pink, green, and yellow.  Candy cigarettes came as paper-wrapped chocolate.  The candy looked a lot like the real thing in their suave plastic cases, but the look had to be spoiled to get at the candy.  Candy cigarettes also came in hard mint form packaged in boxes that mimicked real brands available.  Each piece was white with some red food coloring added at one end to give it that lit-up look.  It tasted terrible.  One may as well have eaten the real tobacco product flavored with menthol.

Cowboys smoked.  My mother, who let me use fake guns, would not let me use fake cigarettes.  A pal of mine gave me a pack once.  Only once.  The first time my mother saw me riding around the yard sucking — or trying not to suck — on one of those candies, she quickly had something to say.  “Get that filthy thing out of your mouth.  You look and smell like a demon.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“What do you mean, smell?  This is mint.  Sort of.”

“Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Act like it.  Spit that thing out.”

But not on the ground.  No littering.  The whole package of candy went into the garbage can, and I had to rely on toothpicks thereafter.

No Drinking

My father had every intention of making it to retirement with all his fingers intact.  He would say, “When working, one must be alert, under control, and in command.”  He meant working anywhere,  but his precept applied especially in his shop, what with all that electricity and all those power tools with all those sharp edges.

My mother would recite, “Who hath woe?  Who hath sorrow?  Who hath contentions?  Who hath babbling?  Who hath wounds without cause?  Who hath redness of eyes?  They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.  Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.  At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.”

Her father had a souvenir of the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, a sheet of paper posted in his workshop at the farm.  “Don’t succumb to the evil pleasures of Mr. Booze!” implored the headline near a cartoon of a bottle.  Why?  “It’s illegal.  It’s expensive.  It tastes terrible.  It burns when it goes down.  It gives you bad breath.  It makes you sick.  It makes you stupid.  In short, it’s foolish!”

No Cussing

My mother would have preferred “No Cursing” to the slang spelling.  My father explained that “cussing” referred to all expletives whether profane or obscene.  That pleased her well enough, though she herself didn’t stop there.

She would not tolerate the use of any of the four-letter words that, at the time, were banned from radio and television.  Neither would she tolerate any of the allegedly sanitized versions of those words.  That meant I was not allowed to say such words as “heck” and “darn”. 

“They refer to profane words,” she would say.  “They are derived from profane words.  They have the same profane meanings.” 

“And it is not right to make light of hellfire and damnation,” my father would say.  “You have no authority over either.  You should not wish either on any one or any thing of God’s creation.  Only He has the right and the might to do such cursing.”

“What about the Devil and his doings?” I asked.  “Can’t even he be cursed?”

My mother said, “Do as the Scripture records and say, ‘The Lord rebuke thee’.”

The same prohibition applied to such expressions as “gosh” and “golly” and even “by gar” as well as to “gee” and “gee whiz” and “jeepers”.

The mother of a friend of mine did not have the habit of cursing.  I did hear her often say instead, “God bless America!”  I asked my mother whether she thought that was all right.

“I don’t think so,” she answered.  “Not unless she’s praying.”  Then she asked me, “Kurt, what is the Second Commandment?”

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” I recited.

“And what does vain mean?”

I thought about it.  “Stuck up.”

“Well, yes.  It does mean being possessed of a selfish and haughty pride.  The word means more than that, though, at least in old English.  Taking something in vain means to treat it as though it were empty, worthless, or futile.  Today’s meaning of vain comes from that older meaning.  A person who is vain is taking pride in someone who, apart from God, is worth less than dead grass cast into an oven, as the Scripture says. 

“But God is not worthless.  He is Creator and King of all Creation.  He is Light and Love and Life.  He is our Refuge, the fortress Rock of our salvation.  He is our Father; hallowed be His name. 

“One does not mention the name of God without all due consideration, without reverence and respect.  He is Light; one does not treat His name lightly.

“Words are important, son.  By saying the Word, God created all the heavens and the earth.  By sending the Word, God sent life and light.  We behold the Word’s glory, full of grace and truth.  We have been given the ability to speak and to hear words, to write and to read words.  The Word of God communicates essential grace and truth to us, and we can communicate via the Word to Him.  By the Word we communicate, we commune with God.  By the word we communicate, we commune with one another. 

“Words, therefore, should not be vain.  They should be full of grace and truth.  As Jesus said, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.  A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.  An evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.  I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment’.”

My mother made sure I got that message by holding me to account for my idle words.  If something from my mouth made her expression turn sour, something sour would go into my mouth: vinegar.  Too this day, I cannot eat German potato salad without thinking of my mother and what she said to me.

My father said to me, “Well done, Kurt,” when I presented my new walnut rifle stock and foregrip.  He held both pieces in his hands as if he were inspecting them for the first time.  That wasn’t true, of course.  He had worked with me as I worked with them through every part of the process. 

One piece in each hand, he alternated hefting them.  He studied each piece from front to back and from side to side.  He nodded.  He tucked one piece under an arm so that he could run his hand along the other.  He nodded again.  “Yup,” he said.  “I reckon these’ll do just fine.  You can take ‘em over to Hank, and he’ll get ‘em together on the gun.”

“Oh,” I said.  “But Hank is gone fishing.  When I was over there this morning, he said he’d be gone all afternoon.  Don’t you think you can do it?”

He did.  And he did. 

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9: Shop Rules

22 12 2012

No Blood on or in the Machinery. 

No Blood on the Tools or on the Woodwork. 

No Blood on the Tables, the Benches, or the Floor.

 

That was my father’s way of saying, “Be careful.  Observe all the safety protocols.”

He asked me, “What does the Bible say about blood?”

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins,” I answered, as though I were reciting the catechism at school.

“And why is blood so important?”

“The life is in the blood,” I recited.

“And what does that mean?”

I thought about it.  That one, I couldn’t answer.

“You probably haven’t gotten that far in school yet,” my father said.  “Listen.  You know that you breathe, right?”

“Right.”  I didn’t think much about it since breathing is automatic, but of course I knew I did it.

“Air goes into your lungs.  Your heart pumps blood to your lungs to pick up air.  Oxygen, to be more specific.  Your heart then pumps the air-loaded blood to all the other parts of your body.  All those parts, down to the smallest cells, need air.  That’s why you need air.  Right?”

“Right.”

“What does the Bible say about the creation of man?”

“It says that God made Adam from the dust of the ground, and then He breathed life into him.”

“Right.  Man’s body is made from the elements of the earth.  Man’s spirit is made from the Breath of Heaven.  From the Divine Wind, as the Japanese might say.  The old English said the Holy Ghost.  The writers of the Bible, whether using Hebrew or Greek, used words made like plywood for the Spirit.  The words had many meanings glued together to try to make the concept work well in human language: air, wind, breath, even ghost.”

I wondered whether they might have thought of fog.  I was getting confused.

My father asked, “What did Jesus say about God?  How did He describe Him in short?”

“Jesus said God is Spirit.”

“And has anyone seen God?”

“No one has seen God at any time.  No one can see God and live,” I recited.

“Right.  No one except…”

I had to think for a moment.  “Oh.  Well, no one except Jesus Christ, the Son of Man and the Son of God.”

“Right.  As He said; as it is written.  And Jesus also said, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father’.”  My father looked me in the eye.  “Have you seen Jesus?”

Again, I paused.  I didn’t quite know how to answer that, so I decided to be strictly honest.  “No.”

“Neither have I,” my father said.  “That’s why Jesus said, ‘If ye love Me, keep My commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.  But ye know Him, for He dwelleth with you and shall be in you.  I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.’ 

“There is that within us,” my father said, “that makes us living souls.  It comes not from within ourselves.  It comes from without.  It comes not from within the earth.  It comes from heaven.  As Elihu told Job, if God were to ‘gather unto Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.’  That spirit, that breath is, as the French might say, élan vitale: a vital, enthusing vigor.  Quickening is the old English word you’ve seen in the Scripture: an enlivening.  It’s something God breathes into us to make us alive.  It’s Something we breath in from God in order to live.”

“That’s the life that’s in the blood?” I asked.

“Yes, in a manner of speaking. The air carried in the blood is a symbol of the spirit given us.  It is that spirit that makes us among all creatures special: the image of God.  It is that Holy Spirit of God, spilling in the blood from the Son of God onto the woodwork of the cross, that kills sin and re-creates us to be what we were meant to be.  ‘But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’.”

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