IS IT BETTER TO DO NOTHING? From: DIXIE, a book in progress.

I was six years old. It was winter. Till now, my knowledge of wintertime activities was to join my father in the annual creation of Mr. Snowman. This year though, I had many friends due to the socialization of Kindergarten and now First Grade. I wanted a sled like my friends had. I wanted to go flying down Glen Ellyn Hill as I had seen so many of them doing. When I asked if we could buy a sled – I wanted a Flexible Flyer, Father offered to help me build one. I was a little skeptical at his suggestion but I had enjoyed using the home made merry-go-round in our back yard. If father said we could build a sled, I knew we could build a sled. I also knew that this sled would not look like other sleds, certainly not like a Flexible Flyer and I suspected that it would not function in quite the same way that a Flexible Flyer would function. After all the merry-go-round in the back yard did not look at all like a merry-go-round but rather more like a teeter-totter. And it needed two children and one adult to make it work.
We had no power saw; just two ordinary looking saws, one shorter than the other. I chose the shorter blade and grabbed a one by four, placing it across two saw-horses and mimicked my father’s technique; I held the board with my left hand, sawing with the right. Occasionally I stopped and rested and started again after the muscle cramp relaxed. I finally stopped to compare the results of my labors with that of my Father. My soft-pine board was only cut halfway through. Father had cut several boards and I had not succeeded in cutting even one. I must have looked very sad. Father looked over and complimented me on my form and my persistence and asked if I would like the larger saw. I said “no”; I preferred one more my size. He picked up the small saw and showed me the teeth. He then did the same with the larger saw. He asked if I could see the difference in the way these teeth were designed. I assured him that I could and asked him why that was. He then explained the basic differences and what these differences were designed to do. He rephrased his question to me, asking me if I would like to see what I could do with a “different set of teeth”. I said “yes” and he helped me to start the first cut. Magically, it seemed the larger saw was meeting with very little resistance.
Together, we collected the cut pieces and as I held two boards together, Father began the hammer and nail process. He saw that I had stopped all activity and was watching him work. He paused, then started another nail and offered the hammer to me. I struck the nail a glancing blow and watched in astonishment as that nail flew through the air, barely missing Father’s face. The new information was placed into memory as I heeded my instructions dealing with an improved grip, better placement of my hand, and newly acquired advice on how to strike that nail. Eventually, the sled was assembled and we placed it in the trunk of our Ford sedan and drove to Glen Ellyn Hill.
My heart thumped as we hauled out our new creation. I pulled the sled into place. My friend Marshall pulled his Flexible Flyer next to mine. “Wanna race?”
“Sure”, I replied. We mounted our vehicles in the popular stance of the day, belly down, readying ourselves for the big race ahead. As we pushed off, Marshall moved past and I watched in dismay as he sped past still another of our friends. I just sat there in the snow.
My sled had stopped after a two foot run. I realized as I watched the race near its end, that Marshall’s sled had metal runners as did all the other sleds. Some had shiny chrome runners; they were the fastest. Some had black wrought-iron runners; they were not as fast but certainly superior to wood.
I pulled my sled back to the car. “Father” I said, “I saw some flat metal curtain rods in the garage. Can we nail those to the runners?”
”Mother will kill us, Son.”
“She’ll never miss ’em.” Father smiled and we returned to the garage. Later as I slid down that hill, I was elated that my idea had worked. Earlier that morning I had said something to indicate that I was feeling sorry for myself. When I was sawing too slowly, when I nearly hurt father with the flying nail, when I sat there in the snow watching my friends having fun, I felt like a failure. Father had asked me, if I would rather not have built the sled at all. I nodded, still pouting. “Lee”, he said to me in his patient, Dixie Broom way, “Just think how much more you know today than you knew yesterday. What did you learn?” I recalled the workroom lessons on how to use tools. Father asked, “What did you learn that was more important than anything else?”
“How to make the sled go faster.”
Today I believe that the greatest thing I learned that day was how to learn as opposed to accepting without question, what to learn. Father had not once told me what to think. He gave me tools. He taught me how to use those tools. But the best lesson of all occurred when he left me free to discover the rest and to see the results of my mistakes and my successes.


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