Of George I write

His hands were as big as he was tall

“Plates of meat!” the other men called ‘em.

 They swallowed the plane handle inside those mits

and I defied any grain or knot to answer back

when he swiped it along the length and breadth of an

ugly board of wood, be it oak, walnut, cherry or ash.

His name was George, a man of presence, of presence

and you might fear his very presence until he then

smiled and pulled you unwittingly into

his world of making.

I say pulled because most men have no such power as he,

a command by presence, by working, by word

and by skill.

Few if any have ever matched the George I knew,

a man who taught me, caught me in my teens to lift me

above my station and make me able to craft my life

for you meet such men but once in a lifetime

and most never do or will but still

I’m glad for his choosing me an apprentice yet to be made

into a man in the last generation before college

trampled underfoot that age-old right of passage 

that once held good that took a boy into 

becoming an artisan of presence 

of character 

of substance.

And here I am now settled in my 73rd year, of 57 years in the making

of an artisan from a thin-limbed lad

having jumped from the high-dive springboard

into a river filled with joy, still a boy

excited by the simple substance of making

that grows as a tree year on year without fail

writing a poem about the deep things 

that matter most.

19 thoughts on “Of George I write”

  1. Do you know anything of George’s life before you met him Paul – was he always a joiner etc?

  2. Do you have any photos of that era of your woodworking? I know I have precious few photos of my college and grad school days of working in the lab where I became a chemist. I have a few photos of cool experimental set ups but even less of me. Photos were much less common to take back then of “mundane” things. Cell phones have really changed things.

  3. Artur Darmofal

    As much as i like simple houses with beautiful add ins I like this cabinet very much. Wood selection, colors, add ins, wow, what a great look and harmony.

  4. Myron Swenson

    I have often wondered about George. Do you know about his early years and what he did after the joinery shop?

  5. I am not a fan of poetry (that is an understatement), but this was one that was a pleasure to read and I am better for reading it.
    I also was able to understand it (I don’t say that very often).
    Thank you Paul for this, it added increased value to my day.

    1. We lost contact with one another and despite my trying, I have never been able to trace him so I have to say I don’t know. He might well be though. He’d be in his mid-80s if so. That few years difference can mean they never used a computer.I most likely would have been one of those but for my writing books, poetry, blogging and such because I still write many things most days longhand with a fountain pen and a pencil.

  6. I had no George, but a Chuck. He provided guidance for the first year of a five year apprenticeship in the sixties. It was another trade though woodworking has always been a favored pastime.
    We have similarities, you and I-even to our birth place.

  7. Paul, I admire you for honouring the memory of George. I was lucky, as a baby engineer, to be placed with Emerich, a diminutive Hungarian. He knew I didn’t like cigarettes, so he cut back to one an hour (sometimes I’d remind him that he was due for one). The rest of my career was influenced by him, even in a very different industry. I still think of him.

  8. Paul,
    Your experiences with George blend together elegantly with those I had with my step-father. He was an incredibly gentle man, had PAWS for hands instead of plates. His patience and ability to teach a thirteen aged boy the appreciation of hard work astounds me to this day. After one long day in the heat of high summer, I finished putting the tools away, and he had me sit down beside him to share some iced tea. He put his paw on my shoulder and said, “Look what we have made together. See what our hard work has made. It is something that will outlast us both, a legacy we created with sweat, time and a few splinters. The best part is we got to spend all the hours making it together.”
    Just thinking of the cottage we built by the pond on our property, I remember the back breaking work, the hot sun, the slivers. Most of all I think of him, the skills he taught me and the deep bond we grew from building one project.

    1. I remember a middle-aged woman telling me no son should ever work with or for his father. She didn’t qualify her reason for saying it even when I asked her. I had three boys plus another son we would call a stepson if I ever allowed it but I never did use the term. They were all working with me through the years and the truth be told I couldn’t keep them out of the shop as soon as school finished. They all felt like sons to me which is what they were and so all were equal to me in the bonding that took place. I only recall their teenage years with great affection. Of course, they’ve all flown the coup now. Have children of their own, mostly on a different continent. I think the lady was narrow-minded and was likely suggesting some kind of mistreatment somewhere in there. That’s happening more and more these days. All you have to do with children is hear them out and be prepared to make necessary changes for the good.

  9. My oldest sister’s husband was my George. He was just returned from war in the Pacific when we met and I but 4 or 5. We hunted and fished together, worked together, and spent many wonderful hours. From him I learned bookkeeping and accounting at about the same age as you learned from George, Paul. That stood me in good stead as I made the highest grades in accounting at university. Later in life I fell into working with computers – in the early 60s and quite by accident – which lead to programming them then to designing systems to be run on them. Every one of those activities – and managing those who did them later on – were all informed by the patient careful guidance he gave. Next to my dad, he was the best man I ever knew in a long life.

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