George Took the Blame

George laughed as we lifted the massive frame from the bench to flip it over for planing the joint line levels. We’d done this many times with smaller frames, no problems, but this time I felt the contortion in my face expressing the reality that this was different, it was just too heavy for me. Losing my balance under the weight and the extra width the frame thrutched away from me, wobbled, and caught on the hard corner of the vise. Of course I could no longer hold my end above the bench which then caused a monumental twist to the whole as it flopped like a flat fish on the bench top without the intended flip taking place. All around heard the loud crack as two oak tenons snapped under the force and as it did Jack the foreman looked over the rim of his glasses directly at me. George shouted his usual, “Woohoo!” followed by his infectious laughing that set off a linear report off mallet blows on every benchtop which the men did to mark that someone, a “boy”, me, had made a massive booboo!

Though all and sundry stood laughing, I failed to see my way out of taking total blame, even though any and all could see that the frame would be far too heavy for a boy of my size, weight and strength. As was common with apprentices, everyone gathered around to see the great blunder. I was dead in the water as my boss had entered the workshop in his pinstriped, navy blue suit and witnessed the whole event. “What’s the boy done?” he asked, addressing George and not me. “He was testing the joints, boss.” George replied. “Good job he did, before installation, otherwise we’d have lifted the frame in and the load would’ve been too much for it.” The boss believed the coverup. Jack new differently. “Here, boy!” Jack called and pointed to the front of his bench. I walked over, thankful that the boss had gone. “How did it happen, lad?” Before I could speak, George was by my side. “My fault, Jack. I should have known he would never hold it. I pushed him too far.”

It was a few years later when one of my sons was working with me and we’d been working hard. There came a point when I saw the anxiety in his face. I stopped to ask whether something was wrong. He said. “I can’t keep up, dad.” I saw my own fault in over expectation and we took a walk, away from the work, and I put my arm around him as we walked. “It’s not a weakness to tell someone you can’t do something.” I then recounted my George’ story. I should have said to George I can’t lift it, but I wanted to prove that I could. Pleasing men is always a pit you don’t want to go down to. George stood in the gap whether he knew or not that I couldn’t lift and support the frame. He took the full brunt of it before I could say a thing. We both stayed behind to fix the problem after work and without pay and went home late. After that I always told George what I could and could not do. Nothing ever came between us. We wouldn’t let it.

21 comments on “George Took the Blame

  1. Excellent lesson on leadership, know the capabilities of your people. I love your depth of wisdom in so many facets of life.

  2. Yes, I am guilty of the same mistake in my youth. I too, tried to prove myself on a construction site. At 16, I see grown men carrying 2 bags of concrete so of course, I try the same. Why not? I’m a strong youth and I can……. drop both bags over my shoulder onto the ground. Both bags split open and I caught hell from the foreman. Lesson learned, however. and the issue never happened again. I also didn’t get re-hired the next turnabout.

    • While seeing the foreman having a talk with you about it, asking you, “what did you learn here.” Letting you take in the full learning of the lesson.
      Not getting a re-hire the next turnaround shows the foreman’s ignorance. After you learned a valuable lesson he was foolish to let you go and get another young person that he would also have to teach the same lesson he taught, or should have taught, you. Foolish, poor management, and he let it go. Dumb!

  3. Unrelated but I can’t get it out of my mind. Here’s a new slogan I’m using for myself…

    “Go Slow and Mind the Accuracy”

    over used, but helps me stop when I’m tired or just not ready to work. The go slow comes from Paul’s advice of course, “with practice comes confidence” which I translate to you can work faster when you’ve practiced longer.

    • “Making haste slowly” – “Festina lente” is the Latin expression of a classical Greek idea. It has been adopted as a motto by the famous and powerful over the centuries. It helps me endure my snails pace as I work and learn.

  4. I love the “George” stories, when I catch up on reading your blog they are the first I read. I hope there are enough to keep them coming

  5. I remember having a weightlifting mentor who was angry one day. It has nothing to do with me, just his own life events were not going to plan. He had me get under the bar for squats and pushed me far beyond my limits to injury.

    I could barely walk for a week and we never lifted weights together again.

  6. As others have said, you were fortunate to have a mentor like George and now others are fortunate to have you as their mentor. George imparted to you much more than his knowledge of woodworking as vast as that might have been. I enjoy all your posts but particularly your posts about your relationship with George. Thank you for sharing this memory.

  7. George was great man. I know that through your stories about him. He learned himself that day and taught you a great lesson.

    More importantly, though, you heeded that lesson and passed it on to your son. Paul is a great man, too!

  8. A slight twist. I’m a semi-retired carpenter and enjoy your posts Paul. I have three sons all of whom I’ve tried my best to teach lessons largely through my own failures; some call it wisdom, my wife calls it ‘grumpy old man’. I too have pushed my boys beyond their limits at times. Sometimes I’ve recognised it, sometimes not. Now that I’m in my 60’s I find that the reverse is happening to me. Rather than getting stronger as a young man does I’m getting weaker as age takes hold. Luckily my boys recognise this and, while taking the p… out of me ( as I did to them when they were younger) they always help me. Your ‘George stories’ warm my heart warmly reminding me of the days when I was an apprentice when we built houses from the ground up with hammer, nails, and hand saws.

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