My outdoor sculpture studio is up and running. Having tools in hand prompted me to revisit one of my assignments from the Women’s Writing Workshop. It was exercise #4 – using objects as writing prompts (November 2015). Our writing coach, Elena, brought in random objects for each to choose and write about. I picked up a pair of pliers and thought of my childhood around tools. Here is my piece from that lesson…
Breaking the Taboo on Tools
I’ve always been active. A big part of my childhood was spent making things–pretty much anything in the found objects category, plus having the use of household items. I could construct and embellish everything from doll clothing and furniture to shell jewelry and greeting cards. I also loved sticks and rocks. We had two weeping willow trees in our yard. We used to swing on them and over the years they began to show wear. The branches were slender, quite flexible, and multi-purpose. When it came to usefulness, my favorite pastime of skinning the pliable branches to make bows and arrows was the best. The branches became works of art and I always had fun being in character. Indians were brave and I was fearless––a thrill-seeking tomboy, to be exact.
My dad was into electronics. He built his own workshop behind the house. The structure had windows and was chock full of tools, every corner nook and cranny. I admired them through the windows, though they were off limits. Once in a while Dad would let us come in and take a peek. Shelves were neatly arranged and labeled, countless drawers contained tiny parts, with large power tools lining the top bench that ran alongside the workshop. He also had a massive Lionel toy train set, complete with tunnel, people, trees, lights, bells and whistles. When it was up and running, it was a show to behold!
My siblings and I loved to build tree-houses, rafts, go-karts, and ramps. Using a hammer was something we got good at, mainly because that was the tool needed for the basic building of our constructions. My parents seemed to be fine allowing us the use of a hammer and nails. Dad taught us the fundamentals, the basic “nuts and bolts,” from what I can remember. I was afraid of power tools; I had no clue how to use them or what they were for. Besides, I thought, “I am a girl.” I left it at that.
At some point in junior high school I wanted to take shop and learn wood working. I was told that was not for girls. In ninth grade I went through a bad patch and my guidance counselor suggested I take summer makeup classes. I was ordinarily a good student, so I promptly agreed to the terms—well, almost. There was a chance to take an elective class. I signed up for wood shop. First day, nothing was said. There were no grades and the students were given easy projects. I was hopeful and eager to learn. The teacher saw my potential and allowed me to use the shop tools. I was extremely excited to touch the very tools that I admired in my dad’s workshop. Now I was building something of my very own.
My family was proud of the small bench and picture frame that I completed. It was well made, by my own hands. To this day there is a great deal more I need to learn about tools, but I’m no longer afraid, thinking that I can only “look but not touch.”
As for the bench…
I remember it was made from pine, a softwood of blonde coloring with natural knotted areas I found quite appealing. My construction was simple; a top and two wide side legs, each notched in a circular pattern on the bottom. The knotted “imperfections” looked brilliant when it was lightly stained. Although I no longer have the bench, it was well loved and used, thanks to the tools that came my way.