I used to sit at a card table in the kitchen area of my bachelor apartment staring at the blank white walls until midnight, asking myself questions. Why was I angry? Why was I visiting prisoners for Friends Outside? Why was I going to San Francisco for the monthly meeting of the American Friends Service Committee? What did I want to do for myself? Why was I angry?
After six months of this questioning, I made some black and white posters and hung them on the walls. I dropped Friends Outside and the American Friends Service Committee. I settled into a routine of having my son for Wednesdays and weekends. I found it impossible to stand not seeing him for a whole week. I enrolled in a woodworking class at the local Junior College.
Woodworking would provide observable, tangible results for my activities. As a petit-bureaucrat my impact on others was not easily measured. I had a failed marriage and a bruised confidence in my ability to be a better father than my own. I would build a toy chest that Aaron would treasure for life. I made the chest of alder wood with oak trim and completed it in the first semester.
At the semester break, I replaced the black and white posters with colored prints. I stopped asking myself, “Why was I angry? “ It was a question for which I had no answer. Switching to, “Who makes you angry?” The answer was inevitably, “Myself”. I forgave myself and moved on. In my spare time I drew intricate plans for a kitchen table.
Tom Champion, the woodshop instructor, took one look at my careful drawings of mortise and tendon, rabbet and dove-tail joints and said, “You don’t want to do that. I’ll show you a real design”.
His “real design” was for a two-inch, red oak dining room fond table. The legs were half-cylinders facing to the ends. It was a simple design that meant a semester of sanding to perfect the legs. I have fond memories of sitting at Colleen’s kitchen table as we got to know and love each other. At the semester break Colleen hung some of her paintings on my walls.
When the dining room table was built but not finished I took it to Colleen’s garage. Her sons, John and Joel together with my son Aaron, helped me sand the top.
Colleen and I married on November 5th, 1978, which is called Guy Fawks Night or Fireworks Night in Britain. It was a package deal; I gained a wife, two sons, a recalcitrant cat, and a sweet, dumb dog. Colleen gained a husband, a red-haired son and a seven-foot long table. One of the things we looked for in a house was enough bedrooms so that each son could have his own room, and another requirement was a dining room large enough to accommodate our table.
I had not built a drop-leaf table for the kitchen, but graduated to one for the dining room. I spent the next six semesters making curved-backed chairs. I had turned my life onto a different much more constructive path.