I think it was the most beautiful treasure to me, when George left and went to Loughborough Teacher Training College but handed me a small package. His ambition to teach suddenly had legs and off he went aboard a train and it was my last ever sight of him. There was a sadness to it, of course, but his friendship warmed me for 50 years, his mentorship sustained as a craftsman and as a man. A warm smile each day remains for a lifetime and genuine affection warms an eternal soul.
Thursday came around and it would be our last day together at the workbench. We had of course been building towards this end for several weeks. Sensing his excitement daily, knowing how much it meant to him, I got caught up in the change more than the rest of the men. George had taught me at a time when no others could reach me, embraced me as his apprentice when I recall almost all of my school teachers were glad to see me leave. I say almost all, but I really think the metalwork teacher might have felt differently but never expressed it. There was no doubt that I had learned more from George than any and all others involved in my life. I was the better man for having known him. I was now 20 years old and he would leave my life forever. Little did I known then that his smile, his laughter, and the skills he imparted so freely to me would live on throughout my adult life. I don’t believe that he had the love for woodworking that I have today. No, what he had was a love for teaching and training young people. I see that clearly now. George influenced me by his lived life and the decisions he made based on honesty and integrity.
George passed me the small package as we were about to leave at the end of the day. Placed it on my bench in front of me as I was opening my pay packet. “Carry on, count your notes. It’ll wait!”
We all used the count the notes that protruded through the corners off the manilla envelopes, to make sure accounts hadn’t short-changed us, then the coins we could see through the clear windows on the front. You never opened the packet until you’d checked because once opened there would be no arguing the discrepancy with what was handwritten on the front.
I reached for the manilla package neatly folded and wrapped and tied with string. Inside the box was a dovetail marker he’d made from some vintage, tight-grained, quarter-sawn oak. It was exquisitely made and the deep hue of the brown oak with medullary rays seemed so rich.
“I wanted you to have something personal that would remind you of me.” George said.
“Always remember though. Whereas this is a personal gift, the one I taught you to make, that was the real gift. If a man doesn’t pass on the gift he was given when someone taught him, well what good is that?”
It was such a lovely thing to give me. Both the gift of how to make one and then the personal one. I used it on through the next two and a half decades when in Texas some thieves came and burgled some of my tools from a barn building and in amongst the ones stolen was my George template. I don’t know how many thousands I have taught to make this now nor how many I have made and given away too, but George would be proud of me, I know. I know it’s in the hundreds!