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.