As you know, Black Friday is a big event around the Stumpy Nubs Workshop. Every year we put on our parkas and confront the horrors that officially kick off the shopping season. It’s like a sport that combines the dangers of alligator wrestling with the rewards of… well, alligator wrestling. If you don’t get bit in the face you know you’ve won. These days I stick to the woodworking stores and occasional home center and I never arrive before opening time. But when I was a younger, dumber man I could be found in the crowd outside warming myself near a burning car or fighting off a police dog just to save a buck on a DVD of Bonanza, season two. I’ve done things I’m ashamed of; unspeakable things involving small children as human shields and empty soda cans as toilets. (And I don’t mean number one…) Does elbowing an infant or two and overturning the odd stroller make me a bad person? I suppose it does- at least that’s what the criminal justice system told me. But things are different now. I’m reformed, and not just because it was a condition of my parole. I realized that life is too short and Michigan winters are too cold. No discount is worth losing more toes.
I wasn’t the first to be caught up in the Black Friday buying frenzy. It’s a little known fact that the whole Thanksgiving shopping tradition dates back to the Pilgrims themselves and was started by none other than my grandfather. Pappy Nubs, as we call him, was quite a character! (He’s familiar to those of you who watch our hand tool woodworking videos, The Old-Timey Workshop, at Stumpynubs.com) As the true old-timey woodworker, Pappy hand-planed his way through some of the most exciting events in history. He loved to tell his stories, and never ceased to amaze me with where he’d been or what he’d done. It was one such story that inspired me to carry on the shopping tradition Pappy started way back in 1620…
Most of the woodworking Pappy did on the Mayflower was below deck- replacing vomit soaked planks in the crew quarters or extracting splinters from the corns of the passengers. Not exactly the type of thing suited to a true craftsman. So when Captain Jones told him that the main mast needed hand planing one brisk November day, Pappy scurried to the top like a spider monkey and set to work sending wispy shavings floating off into the breeze. That’s when he saw it. “Land ho!” he cried.
Cape Cod wasn’t much to look at back then. It would be years before Pappy invented the Cape Cod house, and after two months at sea nobody wanted to see more fish. But a large grouping of tee-pees on the beach looked promising. It was Pappy himself who led the first group off the ship, pausing to collect neat looking pieces of driftwood before continuing up the beach toward the settlement. As they approached a brave wearing nothing but a breech-cloth and white body paint Pappy raised his hand and said “How!” Failing to get a response he continued “Are you folks Indians?” Now, you can’t blame Pappy for his faux pas. How was he to know the locals preferred to be called “Native Americans”? Before they knew it, all 130 Pilgrims were tied to giant spits for roasting.
Most people would be terrified in a situation like this. Not Pappy Nubs! As the natives were chopping vegetables and bringing the big cooking pot to boil Pappy pulled a dovetail saw from his underwear and cut the entire group free faster than you can say “how did he hide a dovetail saw in his skivvies?” Soon they were all back on the Mayflower and off in search of a more hospitable landing site. They found it near a big rock called Plymouth. As the snow fell Pappy kept busy making crude pieces of furniture for the new plantation. He spent that entire first winter in his shop building sideboards and fighting dysentery. At first business was good- he made a killing making racks for people to hang their Pilgrim hats on. But as the weeks passed and the provisions ran out, customers were harder to come by. When someone did stop by the shop all they offered as payment was tuberculosis. But Pappy was determined to keep busy so he built furniture all winter long, stockpiling it for better times.
Better times did come the next year. The natives surrounding the plantation were far more accommodating than the last ones. They even started a football league. The colonists called their team the “Plymouth Pilgrims”, and the natives called themselves the “Pokanoket Palefaces” ( which wasn’t racist because it was intended to honor their new friends). Both teams made the playoffs the very first season, and wouldn’t you know it, they met each other in the championship game! It was a historic contest that broke all previous attendance records for football in America. Squanto was voted MVP, having thrown the corn cob they used for a ball for over four hundred yards. But it was the Pilgrims who won the first Corn Bowl. Their prize? A little bowl of corn, shelled off the ball before the game. The celebration lasted all night. The natives and the colonists came together for a great feast of boneless chicken wings and deluxe pizzas.
One thing I always admired about Pappy Nubs was his ability to seize an opportunity. As everybody ate he began writing little advertisements on slips of paper which he distributed among the crowd. Not only did he invent text messaging that day, he was also able to spread the word about the amazing deals to be had at his workshop the next morning. “I’m closing my doors early to mark down prices, and tomorrow morning at five o’clock I’ll reopen with the best deals of the season!” Soon the conversation had turned from tips on how to grow crops and cure rickets to sofa tables and wooden cookware. The campfires were out before sundown that evening. Friday was going to be a big day!
When Pappy opened the shop early the next morning a mass of people stretched from Plymouth to Roanoke. Customers from as far away as Jamestown were fighting for their spot in line, and a nasty group of squaws threatened to storm the door before he could get out of the way. They were buying everything in sight! Captain Jones bought a spare mast for the Mayflower, Governor Carver got a new gavel for the colony meetings. Pocahontas took home a bedside table while Sacagawea bought new wooden place settings for a fancy dinner party she was planning. Even Sitting Bull purchased a whole set of high back chairs. Man, that guy loved to sit! Pappy’s register was ringing with each sale as the drawer filled with pumpkins and squash and whatever else people had to offer in payment. When everyone’s pockets were empty he saved the day by offering sales at zero down, six harvests same as cash.
That first Black Friday began a great tradition, one we continue at the Stumpy Nubs Workshop. Every year on this day we celebrate the spirit of shopping just as our forefathers did. The lines may be long, it may be dangerous, and we may have way too many clamps as it is. But wherever there’s a sale on woodworking tools, we’ll be there. After all, it’s what we Nubs do.
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