By Tim Hayes
After six years of Catholic education, one learns that some things never change. The playground will always be made of asphalt. Up at the rectory, Father will always be shy one healthy sense of humor. And the dress code will always be business casual – blouses and skirts for the girls, and dress shirt, slacks, and shoes for the guys.
But as the seventh year dawned, a golden ray of hope, a sliver of delicious possibility, a whiff of sweet deliverance, began to wash over us, tantalizingly teasing the chance to break free of at least one of our unbreakable truths.
Once-a month, Friday afternoon, Shop Class – where we rode a bus to a building about two miles away, operated by the city’s public school district, to learn about all different types of jobs and trade skills. And, as if that weren’t a deep-enough dive away from our dark parochial classrooms into the milky froth of liberation, here came the true piece de resistance – we could wear jeans and tennis shoes!
Oh, Shop Class! The joy, the celebration, one Friday afternoon a month! And we got to do it during our eighth-grade year, too!
The building housing Shop Class had two floors where we could sign up for the various subject areas. Things like merchandising, where you got to run a store and operate the cash register, or wood shop, where you got to use a jigsaw to create pieces from blocks of wood, or design, where you could make your own silk-screened t-shirts, and so many more.
My St. Joe’s School compadres and I felt like kids with empty bellies and full wallets turned loose in a candy store. Limitless possibilities. Teachers so much cooler than the ones we had. Subjects so far afield of our standard diocesan curriculum that we could hardly believe our good fortune.
I tried to squeeze as much fun and enjoyment out of Shop Class as possible, naturally. One subject area, though, gave me more satisfaction than any other, and it’s an area that I still, to this day, can’t believe I did so well in.
Anyone who knows me, even a little, can validate that my skills as a craftsman leave quite a bit to be desired, to put it mildly. My success in metal shop as a 13-year-old kid may never be explained by historians. It promises to perplex the great minds of our time for decades to come. I believe I peaked, some 43 years ago, in this regard. Allow me to explain.
The task at hand was to form a small dustpan out of a single flat sheet of black metal. The teacher gave us the materials, measurements, and instructions. At that point, the success or failure of the project fell to each young teenager in that class.
Somehow, with the muses of minor metal crafting smiling down on me, I managed to cut, bend, and solder my hunk of sheet metal into a perfectly formed, completely watertight, fully functional mini dustpan. It felt like a miracle. Me, old fumble-fingers, having created this work of industrial art. If anyone required proof that there is a God, they needed to look no farther than that metal shop that day.
The only logical explanation I have ever come up with that makes any sense at all, is that I attended St. Joseph School – and St. Joseph is the patron saint of craftsmen. That’s all I got, folks, and that’s what I’m sticking with.
Riding that school bus back to St. Joe’s that afternoon, admiring my awesome dustpan, the world seemed a little brighter. Busting down doors you never expected to can be extremely fulfilling.
That dustpan got put to use a time or two in my house, mostly to humor me, I realize now. But at the time, it worked like a charm and I got the satisfaction of seeing other people get some benefit from something I had created. It’s a feeling I still enjoy, but now from providing writing and other communications services. That positive vibe never gets old, never loses its power and punch, let me tell you.
The dustpan triumph of 1973. And it happened while wearing jeans and tennis shoes. Can life get any better? Doubtful, gang. Doubtful.
Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes