At the LA Coliseum grounds, circa 1942, prior to mustering out for North Africa with the 35th Infantry Division.
Blame it on Ken Burns. I just have caught snippets of “The War” being shown on PBS. The poignant glimpses into the individual lives of men and women caught up in WWII has sparked memories of my personal war hero and my first wood-working mentor, my Father, Clark Edmond Victor Bordner. Although we buried my Dad 23 years ago this coming October 3rd (in blue jeans and an old Banlon shirt with his favorite fishin’ pole), I have been flooded with a deep pain in my chest and a few sharp tears as I contemplate how much I wish he were here to see my woodworking projects.
Dad was an old man by the standards of the young men drafted into the service. He was a National Guardsman in the thirties (and for 41 years of service until retirement from the Guard), had participated in the U.S. Army War Games in 1939 in Louisiana. So although he was a Master Sergeant, and merely 24 when the war broke out, he was “Skipper” or just “Skip” to the enlisted men and shavetails that went to war in Africa and then France. He told me stories about personally ripping George Patton a new one for driving tanks over his field phone lines in Louisiana (as if!). But other than that embellished tale he didn’t have much to say about his war days. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, living back at the family home after a bad patch, that we sat down together and traced his travels in the North African campaign through D-Day Plus 4 in Normandy and onward to Meinz, Germany on the maps of an American Heritage coffee table book on World War II.
And of course since he was my Father, I never thought about him being young once. And I could never have imagined him being in fear for his life, out in the country without cover for months at a go. Or about what it must have been like to have been raised Catholic and how “Thou shalt not kill” gets squared away with combat and survival when the chips are down. Despite the madness of war, I think he must have remained somewhat compassionate. One year we got a letter from Poland from a boy war refugee that Dad had befriended. “George” had grown to manhood and had his own family when he somehow managed to track Dad down by letter to thank him for helping him survive.
Now Pop wasn’t a very patient teacher (at least to his own flesh and blood). If I flubbed about at some task, he usually took the tool and finished the project himself. So on the woodworking front I am pretty much self-taught. By the time he had grown patient and I had become a receptive pupil we did not have many years to associate. But we did some collaborative projects (I designed, he built) in the twilight years of his life, and they are all cherished pieces that have traveled with me through two states and four homes. To this day I have his army surplus locker and standing tool cabinet (really an old map cabinet) in my shop. And I have chisels and planes that came down from his father. Of course “Skip” inadvertently taught me to swear like a soldier, which has a tendency to come in handy in the course of most of my projects…
One of you fellas here blogged about having an aged father that was disabled (Parkinson’s, I think) who felt that he was due an invitation to come over and help out in the woodshop. If your woodworking mentor is still around, I urge you to extend your hand in invitation. Maybe He feels “old and in the way” and too proud to come help unless invited. Once the book of his life is closed, you won’t get another opportunity to feast on his accumulated knowledge. And I guarantee that you will have wistful moments when you look for an atta-boy from the old gaffer, and on occasion will shed the odd tear.
To those few of you that have vast seniority on me and have stood in stead as my woodworking “Fathers” on these pages, I thank you for your wisdom and your patience. For the larger few of you I account as my “Uncles” in woodworking (including that cowboy Uncle – you know who you are) I thank you for putting up with my wise-ass palavering and dopey questions. The rest of you, well I thank you for putting up with me as well. I hope there is something amid my blather that is of use. And, Pop, wherever you are, I swear sometimes I can feel you smiling over my shoulder…
-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.