Me and Mortimer, Chapter Eight: “The Superior Craft of Whittling”

While I was havin’ my coffee this mornin’ before tacklin’ that stack of files the office clerk loaded on my desk last night, I was watching Mortimer use his prized wood chisels to carve the company logo into a oval slice of pine wood that the company had cut special for this project from a old pine tree that grew on the north side of the main company building. The company is buildin’ a new employee cafeteria on the spot where that pine tree was growin’, and the tree was in the way so it had to be cut down.

Mort’s been so busy carving on that piece of wood he ain’t even interested in talkin’ to me, even after I prodded him with questions about his so-called special love of wood carving, so I’ll just talk to you about things in general today.

The engineer wanted to cut down the tree and haul it to the dump, but a lot of the employees got together and asked the company to save a slab of the tree—sort of in memory of that tree many of the employees had had their open air lunch under in years past—and make it into a plaque and hang it on the wall in the new cafeteria. The boss thought it was a good, nostalgic idea.

Nostalgic nonsense from a bunch of employees who ain’t workin’ hard enough, if you ask me! A tree is a tree, and there’s a whole bunch more growin’ in the forest just west of town, if you ever want one—or a hundred, even, if you need more.

Anyway, gettin’ back to my story. The company is payin’ Mortimer extra to carve their logo into that piece of wood, and Mort’s sure taking his time in carving it! Every little detail has to be just so! Sez it’s pride in workmanship: doin’ a job right, he sez, but I think he’s just wastin’ a lot of time and company money. Sheesh! If that were me, it wouldn’t take more than a afternoon to finish that thing, and think of all the extra money I could pocket!

I always say, the guy that can make a dime without overworkin’ hisself is smarter than the guy working overtime for the same dime just to please the boss. But, I guess, each of us has his own values, and not all values are as superior as mine!

Mort really takes special pride in them wood chisels of his. Tells me that they was quite expensive when he bought them some years back when he took a design and wood carvin’ course at our local tech. I read stories where more modern wood carvers are now using electronic chisels instead of the old-fashioned hand chisels, but I guess ol’ Mort hasn’t modernized his ways yet.  Sez he feels that the real craft of wood carvin’ lies in using hand tools. Gives a fella a special pride and feel for the wood and the finished product that electronic chisels just can’t give you.

Mortimer thinks he knows a lot about design and wood carving, ‘specially since he took that course at Tech, but I tried to show him he really don’t know nothing about the real craft of wood carving, like I learned as a kid, and what we then used to call, whittling.

When I was a kid, in my home town where I grew up, a kid was considered just a baby until his dad figured he was growed up enough to own his own pocket knife. Then he’d be considered old enough to be part of the gang of the older kids.

I remember, on my sixth birthday, my dad presented me with my first pocket knife.

“Son,” he said, “I think your old enough where you can safely handle your own pocket knife!” I was real proud of my dad for figerin’ that I was a big kid now! I loved my dad, and I think he had more brains than Einstein’s pussy-cat!

My first knife was a Swiss Pocket Knife and had a black handle and had two blades, a small and a big blade. Never did figure out what the small blade was good for, so I just used the big blade for whittlin’ and carving things.

Now that I was part of the Big Kids Gang, we’d spend a lot of our time in the willow bushes by the town gravel pit. By using a trick only us Big Kids knew, we could whittle real-workin’ whistles out of a piece of willow bark. I remember, we’d blow and blow on them whistles, thinkin’ it was lots of fun, and that’s how we spent a lot of our summer afternoons.

One problem we Big Kids had with pocket knives was that most of us would end up cutting our thumbs with the knife until we learned to respect and use them properly. ‘Cause I was smarter than most of the other Big Kids, I only cut my thumb twice before I learned to use it properly, but Reggie Allred was just the opposite. Reggie was bigger than me, had curly black hair, and was the goofball of our group. He cut his thumb more times than a duck said “Quack!” after laying its batch of eggs in the marsh.

Reggie and I became best friends. I remember once, Reggie convinced me to join him in sneakin’ under widow Anne’s window in the afternoon while she was trying to sleep—she slept a lot in the afternoons—and we’d try to drive her crazy with our constant whistlin’. She took it for a while, and we were almost ready to give up on our prank, thinkin’ it wasn’t working, when she complained to my dad, so my dad took away my pocket knife for a week and made me promise never to bother widow Anne again.

Anyway, all this reminiscin’ is meant to show you what real whittling—or wood carving really is. Kids now-a-days, with their iPads, just don’t know what real fun and craftsmanship is about!

Anyway, it’s getting’ near lunch time and I still have to do all that filing. Normally, I’d just leave the filing and do it all on Friday afternoon, but my wife made Mort promise to snitch on me and tell her if I ever slacked off again, ‘cause if I did, that meant no supper and no TV when I got home from work, so I’ll stop talkin’ for a bit and do the filing, then I’ll talk to you again after lunch.

——————————

Well, ol’ Mort never even took all of his lunch time that he’s entitled to, he’s so involved in carving that company logo. I think that’s treasonous on his part—I mean, not takin’ all of his lunch time. If he keeps doing that, pretty soon the company will expect the same from the rest of us, and I ain’t about to sacrifice my free time! No, sir! We got union laws in this company, and I aims to respect them!

Oh—before I go home early this afternoon—goin’ home early ‘cause I finished my filing, so no use staying around here, I gotta tell you something. In case you hadn’t already hear about it, Mortimer’s getting married this Saturday! That’s right. He’s finally found someone that’ll tolerate his company brownnosing attitude and marry him! Me and the wife got an invite to his wedding. I wanted to go fishing this Saturday, but one look from my wife—she shoulda been a Sergeant Major, I tell you; I pity the guy who’d ever say “no” to her!

My wife bought them a expensive Wedgewood bone china breakfast set as a wedding present. When I heard what she spent on that breakfast set, I was gonna mention to her that I coulda, instead, bought that expensive fishing tackle box with all the fish hooks I’d ever need in it, that I always wanted, but I hadn’t finished my supper yet, so decided to say nothing!

I haven’t met his future wife yet, but I hope she’s gonna be good and firm with Mort, ‘cause that guy can sure use some smartening up, if you ask me! I gave you an example earlier, where Mortimer didn’t even believe me when I explained to him that whittling was a superior art to wood carving, and that’s just a small sample about the way he thinks!

Oh well, not everyone can have the superior upbringing like I had. Some of us, like ol’ Mort, for example, just gotta learn the hard way that you gotta grab what’s yours, and not wait for someone to hand it to you—like Mort not taking his full lunch hour at noon today. That’s breaking union rules, and it can get me so mad!

Sheesh!

I turns to Mort, who’s got his back to me, and sez, “Good night, Mort. I’m goin’ home now. Don’t forget to lock the shed when you leave!” I figured I’d best tell him that I was leaving, in case he turns around and finds I’m not here anymore.

 

About Albert Schindler

I was born on the 27th of February, 1931, on a farm near Hubbard, Saskatchewan. As far back as I can remember I had a spirit that would not stay earthbound. In junior high, I remember taking first place for a short story in which I described my terrifying encounter with a dinosaur. In outer space – that is, when the teacher wasn’t directly speaking to me, I went where Buck Rogers wouldn’t dare go. I was more of a Calvin in Calvin and Hobbes type of guy, with my own, personal, very powerful, transmogrifyer always at the ready. In my ‘teens and twenties, I pushed aside my Calvin alter ego in favour of making a living and didn’t take seriously again my ‘writer’s bug’ until my late 30s. I still saw that the world as full of exciting things to learn and investigate, which my writing reflected in the several articles and a couple of short fiction pieces that I wrote and sold, including over 30 children’s radio plays for Alberta’s ACCESS Radio. Unfortunately, I abandoned my budding writing career in favour of starting my own business as a sign painter. Now that I can officially call myself ‘retired,’ I plan to resume my writing career, only this time, writing mostly fiction. Why fiction? I have lead a great, adventurous life in which I made many mistakes (the ‘adventure’ in life), that have taught me some very important lessons and allowed my spirit to grow to unimaginable proportions, inconceivable to me while still in my thirties. In fiction, I believe, one can adventure into both the inner and outer consciousness of man and the universe to infinite levels where only the boldest dare peak. Convention holds that article writing has to be factual – oh, you can be creative in how you present your information, but ‘fact’ (whatever that means) still must have its parameters in article writing, whereas fiction is limited only by the size of a writer’s spirit, and so far, I haven’t been able to fathom my limit.
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