By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
It didn’t hit me until I wrote my second news story that day that the house was eerily quiet.
And when you have four sons, quiet usually means someone’s been stuffed in a suitcase and mailed to Grandma’s house. Not that we’ve ever gotten away with that.
I leaned out of my office and listened to the dead air in the hallway. Nothing stirred. The bare floor gleamed with cheery amnesia as if it had never been trampled
I padded outside. The cottonwood trees shrugged.
Thinking I’d fetch my car and scour the neighborhood for those little vagabonds who hadn’t bothered to tell me where they were going, I rushed to the garage, whipped open the door, stubbed my toe, slashed the air with my car keys and accidentally walked in on… a symphony of effort.
In the back of our garage beyond windowed double doors is a woodshop full of clean fragrant planks, wood scraps, a high countertop and its attendant stools. There the boys worked with wood.
One boy pieced together a Viking hammer; another built a battle axe, another a scepter and the youngest boy – the little, feisty twin – chiseled away at a mystery. They murmured suggestions to each other, like:
“Buddy, you might want to hammer this in a little more before you spray paint,” or “Just so you know, that drill will need charged in a minute.” But these suggestions were soft ripples in their bustling harmony, not the bombastic war cries of their fluent tongue.
On that day of eerie quiet, my boys had trapped their cacophony in a hushed thrall, in the invisible vibration of sawdust flecks disbanding on a sigh.
But Little-Feisty was getting frustrated.
I watched him slide down from his stool and trudge to the vice clamp with his formless hunk of lumber in hand. He wedged the wood into the vice and cranked the vice rod. The untanned crescent joining his neck to his shoulders peeked out of his collar with each violent crank. The wood wheezed miserably.
I tip-toed through the sawdust.
“What’cha makin’ honey?” I asked.
“This stupid thing,” Little-Feisty huffed.
I bit my lip. “What… is it?”
“It was SUPPOSED to be a gift for him,” said Little-Feisty, gesturing toward my first-born son. Little-Feisty’s eyes flared each time he emphasized a word. “But it’s not WORKING, be-CAUSE every time I attach the upper PRONG, the wood falls uh-PART.”
It’s hard to take a cute small angry person seriously. And it doesn’t help that Little-Feisty is the last of my four sons who still has a vestige of the Bronx accent of toddlerhood.
“How dare it,” I said.
Little-Feisty trained his eyes on the stupid hunk of wood. Silver rivulets sharpened in his irises like a storm blasting sea-eaten cliffs. He yanked the drill off the countertop and rammed a screw into the wooden joint.
The joint cracked and fell apart.
Little-Feisty’s shoulders sank. “AUGGH, see? Every time I try to drill it, it falls apart like a – like a” – he fumbled for an insult. “Like a SANDWICH!”
I don’t know the first thing about woodworking. I glanced at the other boys as they piped out wood glue and sanded rough edges. On a distant stool the big, sweet twin’s lower lip relaxed, his eyelashes dropped softly as he slipped a leather cord into a hole he’d bored through the handle end of his war hammer.
Little-Feisty kicked a box.
“It seems to me you need a break,” I said. “Why don’t you go get a popsicle, take a few deep breaths, and when you’re ready, call Dad and ask him what to do.”
He nodded and left.
It’s one thing to build something for fun or for personal use. It’s quite another to channel all your creativity, will and vision into a creation intended for another person. You’re likelier then to push the limits of your skill and understanding and, what’s worse, to forget the spontaneous goodwill for which you started the project in the first place.
Little-Feisty paced on the deck with our house phone in one hand and a cherry popsicle in the other.
“It’s called a pilot hole,” The Husband explained through the phone. “You drill the hole with a drill bit smaller than the screw. Then, you can screw in the screw without cracking the wood.”
Little-Feisty furrowed his brow. His cheeks rounded as he crunched red ice into sugar juice.
“And it doesn’t have to be perfect,” The Husband added.
He’s right. The more we strive for perfection, the more we fail. We find instead that, as we pour ourselves into a craft, it becomes a formed realization of our selves. Of whatever we are; the hidden figures that live inside us and can only be funneled out with the making.
Little-Feisty went back to the woodshop and made the hunk of wood stop being stupid. He held it up and beamed.
“That’s great, sweetie! Um,” I paused, unsure how to pose the question. “What does it do?”
“It’s a zombie-killer!” he gushed.
“See, you can wedge it into a zombie’s mouth so he can’t close his jaws, then you can pour poison or acorn squash soup down his throat!”
(My acorn squash soup is a lot better than people say, actually.)
Firstborn gasped. “Is that for ME?”
“I LOVE IT,” said Firstborn. “Thanks buddy. It’s just what I needed.”