I’m reading a book about the “First Thanksgiving.” Turns out, there was no turkey. No cranberry sauce. No sweet potatoes. No pecan pie. No pumpkin pie. No whipped cream. There were Indians present, Wampanoags, outnumbering the English settlers roughly two-to-one. They killed five deer and donated the meat to the feast, probably to round out the main dish, sobaheg. The Native American stew consisted of
“…boiled maize or Indian corn, mixed with kidney beans, or sometimes without. Also, they frequently boil in this pottage fish and flesh of all sorts, either taken fresh or newly dried….These they cut in pieces, bones and all, and boil them….Also they boil in this furmenty all sorts of flesh that they take in hunting, as venison, beaver, bear’s flesh, moose, otters, raccoons…several sorts of roots, as Jerusalem artichokes, and ground nuts….and squashes.”
Rather than a celebration of plenty, the Native Americans and the settlers were engaged in a diplomatic dance, testing the waters of mutual trust and support in the face of great hardship. The Indians were threatened by warring neighboring tribes and disease epidemics; the settlers were in dire straights due to the privations of sickness, hunger, exposure and all that goes with trying to carve an existence out of a strange and hostile environment. ”The feast was one of a whole series of meetings at which the English (settlers) and the Wampanoags tried to establish good relations.”
In short, they came together because they needed each other to survive.
The myth of the “First Thanksgiving” is an example of what historians have come to call “the invention of tradition.” What we call “Thanksgiving Day” today bears little in common with the meeting in 1621 it supposedly commemorates. In fact, the English (and Native Americans) had a long history of formally giving thanks for the year’s crop and other events looked on as favor from God. Equally important to them was the regular practice of humbling themselves through fasting and prayer when things were going south. Not coincidentally, a solemn day of thanksgiving often followed the self-imposed act of humiliating themselves before God, preferably by fasting rather than feasting. The reason for thanksgiving? It started to rain after a drought. An overdue supply ship suddenly arrived. The epidemic ended. In other words, their prayers were answered.
So, the national holiday we celebrate every November on the fourth Thursday of the month (a change by President Roosevelt in 1939 to accommodate retailers’ desire to begin raking in Christmas holiday dollars as early as possible) brings families together to share a sumptuous meal and watch football on television, enjoying parades and time off from work. Apart from the obligatory saying of “grace” before the meal in most Catholic homes, our modern Day of Thanksgiving entirely misses the point of the historical practice of acknowledging God as the source of our good fortune and bounty as individuals and as a nation. As politically incorrect as it is to say today, good fortune and bounty are just words implying blessings from God.
Today, the only public acknowledgement of gratefulness for God’s blessings occurs regularly, by rote, about 11:30 a.m. every Sunday – in church (or Friday or Saturday at the mosque or synagogue, respectively.) This is the definition of lip service.
Giving thanks to God once was a central feature of our cultural mien. Not only preachers, but everyone from statesmen to street sweepers spoke confidently and comfortably about the graciousness of God in their public and private lives. We know cultures ancient and more modern incorporated giving thanks to the deity as a way of life, uninhibited and unembarrassed by the show of genuine emotion of gratefulness.
Two years after the “First Thanksgiving,” the English settlers at Plymouth experienced a drastic crop failure caused by an extended drought. A supply ship from England was long overdue and presumed lost at sea. Edward Winslow, one of their leaders, recorded they were moved to “humble ourselves before the Lord by fasting and prayer.” It began to rain the next day, and continued for another two weeks. Within days, Myles Standish arrived with fresh provisions from the coast of Maine, bringing word the supply ship due from England had not been lost at sea, and would be arriving soon. Winslow wrote, “So that having these many signs of God’s favor and acceptation we thought it would be great ingratitude, if secretly we should smother up the same, or content ourselves with private thanksgiving for that which by private prayer could not be obtained. And therefore another solemn day was set apart and appointed for that end, wherein we returned glory, honor and praise, with all thankfulness, to our God, which dealt so graciously with us.”
Likewise, the colonies of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut kept both days of fasting and humiliation, and days of thanksgiving (small T.) According to records of Reverend William Love, thanksgivings were held for the arrival of ships in 1631, twice in 1632, and again twice in 1633.
The Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1782, as the nation began its heady march into the future, proclaimed another meaningful thanksgiving:
“It being the indispensable duty of all Nations, not only to offer up their supplications to ALMIGHTY GOD, the giver of all good, for his gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his providence in their behalf…”
In 1789, George Washington issued the first official National Thanksgiving Proclamation, exhorting Americans to express their gratitude to God “in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us” further stating that “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” No mention of the Macy’s parade.
Thanksgiving Day as we celebrate it today came by way of presidential proclamation resulting from the unswerving dedication by Sarah Josepha Hale to create a national festival to rival the Fourth of July. Hale saw the new holiday as a unifying influence on the nation growing more divisive by the day leading up to the Civil War. She lobbied continuously for its establishment until, finally, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1864. For her part, Hale called upon “the people of the States and Territories [to] sit down together to ‘feast of fat things’ and drink in the sweet draught of joy and gratitude to the Divine giver of all our blessings…” Lincoln referred to “the gracious gifts of the Most High God…They should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged.” The last Thursday of November was proclaimed as a day of thanksgiving and praise “to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
The “First Thanksgiving” probably included a prayer of thanks prior to the meal, as both the English settlers and the Indians were aware of their place in the cosmos: mere human beings subject to and dependent on a greater, higher power. Their concepts of this higher power were clearly different, but each recognized their indebtedness to it for whatever grace they enjoyed in life.
Our modern celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday bears little resemblance to this gathering in 1621. What also bears little resemblance in this day and age is the way we profess our gratitude to God. In the not too distant past, and for time immemorial, cultures openly and unabashedly expressed sincere thanks to God for blessings as a matter of course. However, there has been a palpable shift in our willingness to acknowledge God in the way our ancestors did. This is the tradition of our forefathers that needs to be recaptured.
Let’s once again begin to give credit where credit is due, and see if there comes some acknowledgement of our effort in return.
I’m sure Gutenberg is spinning in his grave. Johannes, that is, not unfunny comedic actor Steve with two ts. Old JG, inventor of the moveable type printing press, is probably rotating faster than PSR J1748-2446ad, the fastest-spinning pulsar known, with a period of 0.00139595482(6) seconds, or about 24 percent of the speed of light at 161,040,000 miles per hour.
My point in writing this droll bit of esoteric trivia is simply to illustrate that a rather involved statement can be translated into the written word sans typos given a modicum of attention to detail and care. Johannes G. is polishing the inside of his coffin because the art of accurate spelling which once was second nature to the average literate person has been largely abandoned in just the last couple of years.
I’m not just talking about text-speak. This screen caption appeared on the local TV news the other day accompanying a story on budget cuts: “BUS ROUTES SLAHSED.” Just this morning, CNN Newsroom’s headline crawl at the bottom of the TV screen noted, “…employers plan to higher the fewer workers this holiday season…” Here’s a recent Facebook post, verbatim:
“This sitch isn’t just NYS by any stretch of the truth. Staes ovebler employ so they can keep the votes goingthier way. And by all means someone must get killed before evan a stop sign will be erected. I can not understand how you could think for even a second that NY has a monopoly doing something smart only after all the stupid things have run their course. Voting the dum barstards in or out of office can’t happen. For every time one senceble vote is cast; there is two forced into place to nullify that one right vote. Sorry didn’t mean to carry on.”
Talk about dum barstards.
We don’t even have to get into grammar, continuity and punctuation, as the three go hand-in-glove with correct spelling. You either care enough to send the very best, or you’re a dum barstard.
I take small pride in being a stickler as defined in the wonderful, typo-free book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss (Gotham, 2004) about punctuation and ways simple errors can change meaning. (Her 2005 work, Talk to the Hand vents her spleen at rudeness, incivility and boorish behavior prevalent in society today.) As a stickler I appreciate when someone puts two words together in an interesting and literate way, but also abhor lazy writing. Misspelled words, truncated phrases, bad grammar, gibberish, poor punctuation and nonsense are hallmarks of the modern written word. I blame the internet.
Like everybody else, I also bang out the words when typing into a search engine without a second thought to spelling: “whatt is sped oflight?” yields “Showing results for what is speed of light?“ All the incorrectly spelled words are magically corrected by the search engine because they don’t want you to be frustrated in your search by your own ignorance. Frustrated consumers don’t have time to scan ads and superfluous content if they are attempting to find the speed of light at less than light speed due to dead-end search results.
Why don’t “smart” phones, social media sites, email, advertising, and other forms of written communication have this miraculous feature and save everyone a lot of unrealized embarrassment? Problem is, because the problem is ubiquitous, nobody calls anybody else out when they make egregious errors in writing. It’s the elephant in the room that just keeps smashing into the furniture and crapping all over everything.
Another great read is The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson (Crown Publishing Group, 2010) chronicling a cross-country crusade to write the wrongs of modern word usage. Equipped with writing utensils of every stripe and medium, these two latter-day linguists hunt down and (with permission) correct myriad malapropisms and misprints at every turn of their journey on a circuit of the United States (or “Staes” as noted earlier…) Men after my own heart, I’m afraid we are just voices crying in the wilderness.
I’m guessing if every one who emails or posts (and who doesn’t?) would only take a moment or two to click on “review,” “spell check” and “proofread writing” periodically during composition or when completing a missive, 90 percent of offending verbiage would evaporate into a black hole in cyberspace. As I write this, misspellings are consistently called out by a red squiggly line underlining each one. I mean, it’s obvious. No one, not even we sticklers, is mistake-free. What we need is a bit more self-awareness and concern for the decline of our language to take responsibility to clean up our own act when it comes to good writing and writing well.
Read the dictionary for fun. Buy a thesaurus (no, it’s not a kind of dinosaur…) Use spell checker. Reread your writing to spot obvious flaws easily corrected. Pride yourself in your written communication skills. You might not see the difference, but everyone else does.
By the way, don’t rely 100 percent on your spell checker to get it right vis-a-vis correcting spelling errors. As you know, “vis-a-vis” is spelled thusly. Here’s what my spell checker suggested as the correct spelling(s): bis-a-vis, via-a-vis, vi-a-vis, vs-a-vis and, of course, is-a-vis.
Happy hunting and pecking.
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When I was young, no one, but no one said the “F” word out loud. This pertained to any situation. You also didn’t see it in print. (Norman Mailer was constrained to using “fug” as the frequent curse of his characters in The Naked and the Dead.) Accidentally hitting your hand with a hammer, for example, elicited other, albeit equally colorful language. Casual conversation especially avoided this word, as it was a sign of coarseness, disrespect or, at best, a limited vocabulary. Use of the word was stereotyped as part of the vernacular of soldiers, sailors, lowlife and perverts. Today, the F-bomb is routinely dropped by children, seasoned politicians, texters, posters, comedians, movie characters, gangsta-rappers, rockers, women, men, disgruntled customers and, literally, the average person holding an average (calm) conversation with another average person. We hear it all the time, in any setting (except maybe church, but keep listening…) “Foul” language of former times, say ten years ago, has become the lingua franca of modern society.
Why? What has shifted in our perception of ourselves and others to allow what was once highly offensive and off-putting to become a commonplace?
There are other signs of change for the worse.
Jack-in-the-Box ads in recent years have become consistently sexually suggestive in their drive to sell processed meat. An example has two teen girls on a bed texting with their phones; their conversation leaves everything to the imagination: “He just said, ‘It’s big.’” “How big?” “Really big.” “Tell him to send a pic.” “No! Okay…” “Whoa!” “Whoa!”
Cute, huh. Of course, the “really big” reference is to a hamburger, not a penis, but we get the idea, right? The commercial ends with the company’s namesake character, Jack, saying to the male who’s texting to the (underage?) girls in their bedroom, “Oh, and tell her I’m easy.” Because of the drive-through. Uh huh.
Advertising has picked up the gauntlet thrown down by cable TV and shock jock radio: “Sex sells” is a trope and a truism. Now, obscenity sells as well.
The latest Smurf movie offering is replete with plays on sex and vulgar language: The official website address is smurfhappens.com; one of the characters is a female “Naughty” named Vexy; and Neal Patrick Harris has the immortal line, “I’m just smurfing with you.” Too cute. Apparently cute (and contemporary) enough to earn a PG rating, so pack up the family and go; you can always lie to the kid who asks what “smurfing” implies…
CreditKarma offers their “free” credit score service in a TV ad depicting four people on the street, including a little girl, each saying the bleeped- and pixeled-out f-word, except it turns out they’re only saying “free.” Hilarious, to quote the YouTube caption…
The use of children in these ads is disturbing. My neighbors’ kids learn enough profanity from their parents, as I am a regular witness to, without hearing it promoted on commercials during their favorite Smurfs episodes.
And we can’t ignore the uptick in exposure to public profanity engendered by the wildly popular “reality” shows and ubiquitous video captures gracing every medium known to man. A national news program offered this plum feel-good on-camera reaction by a woman whose husband surprised her on his return from active duty: “Are you f***ing kidding me?” Touching.
I’m not sure if this is a symptom of a limited vocabulary or just an annoying speech affectation, but using the word “like” to punctuate conversation is another post-modern phenomenon we could do without. Sitting in the sushi bar recently my wife and I could not help overhearing a garrulous young woman talking to her companion who couldn’t seem to get in a word with a shoehorn. At times three words out of five were “like.” I tried to memorize some of what she was saying to memorialize it in print, but was unable to keep up with the gist. So I asked my wife to count 60 seconds while I counted “like.”
On average she said the word “like” 20 times a minute, or 1,200 times an hour. I wanted to point out this statistic to her (and her friend whose limited contributions also were peppered with the filler word) but didn’t because I knew my wife wouldn’t “like” that.
As a society we are obviously lowering our standards of literacy and propriety, although some will always argue twas ever thus, there’s just more “opportunity” to experience this moral morass. But other harbingers of decline are obvious because they are new and newly widespread and “acceptable.”
Take for example tattoos. As we say in the Midwest, “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone with a tattoo” today. Again, tattoos used to be the way sailors (and bikers) proved their manliness, usually after drinking themselves into a mindless stupor. If, as is known, judgement is the first mental process to suffer from the effects of alcohol on the brain, what is the excuse of the multitude of average people, men and women, teens, grannies, grampas, soccer moms and goth girls who decide getting a permanent ink drawing engraved into their body is a good idea? As a public service tattoo parlors should offer prospective clients a computerized age-progression image of the desired tattoo, or at least suggest they go look at Uncle Joe’s sagging blue-black Merchant Marine tat on his flabby chest. Maybe that would stem the tide of reckless ruin of perfectly good skin.
Don’t get me started on piercings.
At this point a little perspective on the issues is warranted. Obviously I am biased against tattoos and piercings (as is my barber, I was pleased to find out.) But what does the great moral compass, the Bible, say about the subject of “body art?” Before you stop reading and accuse me of all sorts of prudery and sanctimoniousness, note what a smattering of historical figures thought about the Bible as a guide to right living:
Daniel Webster (1782-1852), American statesman and political leader, said, “If we abide by the principles taught by the Bible, our country will go on prospering.”
Wernher von Braun (1912-1977), regarded as the father of the American space program, wrote, “In this age of space flight, when we use the modern tools of science to advance into new regions of human activity, the Bible—this grandiose, stirring history of the gradual revelation and unfolding of the moral law—remains in every way an up-to-date book.”
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third U.S. president, stated: “I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, better husbands . . . the Bible makes the best people in the world.”
John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), sixth U.S. president, wrote, “So great is my veneration of the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country.” He also stated: “My custom is to read four or five chapters of the Bible every morning immediately after rising . . . It seems to me the most suitable manner of beginning the day . . . It is an invaluable and inexhaustible mine of knowledge and virtue.”
Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), seventh U.S. president, said, “The Bible is the rock on which our republic rests.”
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th U.S. president, stated: “I believe the Bible is the best book God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.”
Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), 28th U.S. president, stated: “I have a very simple thing to ask of you. I ask every man and woman in this audience that from this day on they will realize that part of the destiny of America lies in their daily perusal of this great Book [the Bible].”
Harry Truman (1884-1972), 33rd U.S. president, said, “The fundamental basis of this nation’s law was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teaching we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don’t think we emphasize that enough these days.”
Queen Elizabeth (1926 – ), Queen of England said, “To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn than to the imperishable truth to be found in this treasure house, the Bible?”
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the United States said, “It is necessary for the welfare of the nation that men’s lives be based on the principles of the Bible. No man, educated or uneducated, can afford to be ignorant of the Bible.”
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), 18th President of the United States said, “Hold fast to the Bible. To the influence of this Book we are indebted for the progress made to civilization and to this we must look as our guide in the future.”
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), General of the Confederate Army said, “There are things in the old Book which I may not be able to explain, but I fully accept it as the infallible Word of God, and receive its teachings as inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
Convinced? If Grant and Lee can agree on the importance and provenance of the Bible, maybe there is something to it.
The question was: What does the Bible say about body art? Not a lot, but to the point (pun intended):
“Ye shall not make any cutting in your flesh for the dead, nor print (tattoo) any marks upon you: I [am] the Lord.” Leviticus 19:28, King James translation throughout
“They shall not…make any cuttings in their flesh.” Leviticus 21:5
“Ye [are] children of the Lord your God; ye shall not cut yourselves…” Deuteronomy 14:1
Repetition is the best form of emphasis, so, you may take this for what it is worth; while you’re thinking about this you might look up a few references to other social quirks, like gender roles, pacifism and greed.
On a lighter note: The decline of sane social norms can also be tracked in hair styles. Compare these looks:
Another fashion trend that speaks volumes for the end of civilization as we know it is the really attractive practice of revealing your underwear in your effort to summit the height of haute couture.
I checked out at the grocery store the other day and was looking both ways to decide where to exit the store: To the left a woman walked away displaying her bra straps badly aligned with the spaghetti straps holding up her top; to the right a woman one-upped her by leaving her bra straps “neat” with no other distractions on her shoulders from the halter top she was wearing.
In line at the post office yesterday a young “man” was attired in the pants du jour that look like they were tailored by Omar the Tent Maker.
Trying to discern his legs in the swathe of fabric, I suddenly realized there was a strategically ripped section in the right buttocks region allowing me full view of his red-patterned underwear. Oh joy. Could have been worse, I guess…could have been blossoming out of the waist band of his “pants.”
I’ve wondered why these fashionistas never choose to wear briefs: always boxers. Huh.
And what did we do ten years ago to keep up with the world before we had the ability to check Facebook and email and texts while staring at iPhones on the job or walking across the street blind to oncoming traffic? I mean, having to wait for the evening news and pushing the play button on the answering machine when we get home is so 2003! Talk about not being able to swing a dead cat! Have you looked up from YOUR iPhone recently to see all the lonely people living their lives in the cloud? Eating at a restaurant with a friend who’s staring at the little screen? Standing on the curb surfing the net until someone yells your name to open the car trunk to put in the packages? Walking across the street oblivious to traffic while catching up on the latest posts? Drifting into oncoming traffic while updating your status? Checking Tweets while talking on the phone while smoking a cigarette while riding a bicycle?
All of this brings to mind Mike Judge’s prescient if ridiculous 2006 film “Idiocracy:” Everybody has a tattoo. The Congress is full of rude self-servants. Pro wrestler politicians are idolized. Internet search engines are porn hubs. Restaurants really let you have it “your way.” Corporate sponsorship is ubiquitous. Smoking is cool. New cars have one button (“Go”) to start the engine . And everyone has devolved to the level of stupid half-wits bent on gratifying their basest desires: food and sex.
Food and sex.
Most people would consider themselves unique and wholly different from the other 7,108,523,000 plus individuals on the planet (as of 0715 PDT on September 1, 2013. It’s hard to be more precise as the world population is increasing by two every second…) And you would have good reason to feel that way. We are, in fact, islands in the stream of humanity, each with our own singular personalities and different fingerprints. We have our personal histories, past, present and future. No two people, even identical twins, share the same genes, or style of jeans, for that matter. As my dear old Mother would say: “It takes all kinds to make a world.”
This got me thinking about the extraordinary aspects of my own life. I play guitar; a lot of people play guitar, and a lot better than I do. I can play the first few bars of “Over the Rainbow” on a Theremin, again, not well, but…can you? Very few people, a literal handful, can make music on a Theremin because of the challenge of using fine muscle movements to find musical pitches in the air separated by fractions of an inch. So that’s something that begins to define who I am relative to you and the other 7,108,525,800 (0733 PDT) meat bags on Earth.
What else can I claim as special, without sounding a braggadocio or bloated with ego? There might be a few things to mention…
When I was about five, my Dad took me to a men’s clothing store, then known as a haberdashery (great word.) This was in Kansas City, Missouri, in about 1956. Although I was too young to know at the time, this store was undoubtedly Eddie Jacobson’s Westport Menswear owned by President Harry S. Truman’s old friend and former business partner, Eddie Jacobson. (He and Harry owned a haberdashery in the nineteen teens.)
How can I make that leap? I met Mr. Truman that day in the store. I don’t know if it was coincidence, or my dad (who was very connected in the Westport area of Kansas City) knew he would be there that day. Too young to be impressed at the time, I have since thought long about this episode: I shook hands with the man who was directly responsible for the death of an estimated 105,000 souls, and the injury of 94,000 others by atomic bombing.
Much later in my life, I moved with my young family to Oregon, where, armed with a college degree in Biology and Chemistry, I went to work in the woods as a tree planter. Wait, what? Yes, I planted trees for three “seasons” (read “winters”) to make a living. The experience made a man out of me: my chest size increased two inches with accompanying upper body development from the continuous strenuous exercise of walking and swinging a hoedad. I ate like two horses, and collapsed into bed every night, asleep and dreamless before my head hit the pillow. The best part of the job was exiting the crummy every morning of the work week and smelling the pure fragrance of the Douglas fir forest. Then the fun began.
The “fun” involved bagging upwards of 1,000 fir seedlings in vinyl bags carried on the hips. This was repeated several times throughout the work day. My fellow misfits and me (one had a wooden prosthetic leg, believe it or not) would then set out on the hillside walking and planting side-hill 8 feet apart in a precisely spaced grid. Interestingly, for my Biology senior term paper back in deciduous forested Missouri, I wrote a diatribe condemning the horrors of monotonous monoculture forests, just like I ended up creating a few short months later in Oregon.
I was a poor planter in the beginning, but as my strength and endurance grew, I became one of the better “reforestation engineers” as we liked to call ourselves. Another interesting side note: Loggers hated tree planters. We were not manly enough, or brave enough, or smelly enough or something. We didn’t run the risk of accidentally cutting off our leg with a chain saw, and having to carry it out of the woods with us to the hospital. And yet I planted trees in a wind storm when 150 foot tall trees were falling in the stand next to us; I lost my footing and tumbled ass over tea kettle 100 feet into a ravine; and, to this day I can still feel the pain of an errant twig branch sliding into my left ear canal and piercing my eardrum. Not brave enough my tea kettle.
What I remember as the touchstone of my tree planting career is planting whole hillsides alone for days on end, known as “floating.” I work best alone. I am a confirmed lone wolf and do not play well with others. Floating suited me perfectly. I have suffered derision by stating that I like to be alone with my thoughts, rather than listen to headbanger music on a construction site. Oh well. Mother again: “To each his own, like the old woman who kissed the cow.” I don’t get it either, but it seems apt…
So what do I take from this experience that sets me apart just a bit? Over those brief planting excursions, I planted an estimated 250,000 Douglas fir trees. For dramatic effect, that’s a quarter of a million. A lot. More than your typical Arbor Day outing. And, probably, more than you.
But I’m not bragging…
Unlike Chuck Norris, however, I have never counted to infinity, twice. Once took far too long, and I have other things to do.
Like train your average citizen in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, a.k.a. CPR. In the early seventies, like 1970, I and another orderly working at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City were the only two people in the house who knew CPR. CPR was in its infancy, having been born in the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. The basic technique had been worked out: blow air into the lungs to oxygenate the blood, then push on the chest over the heart to “pump” the blood to the brain, heart and kidneys to keep them alive until definitive life support could be brought to bear. It worked. My friend, Ron Lewis, and I would respond from our stations on the wards to the Emergency Room when we heard “Code Blue” announced over the PA. Snatching the “crash cart” with all the supplies from the ER, we’d make our way as quickly as possible up the elevators and to the room where the cardiac arrest patient was lying in bed. Alone. He and I would routinely be the first to arrive, followed shortly by the doctors on call and the floor nurses. Ron and I would tag team each other doing CPR; this was before the two-person technique was developed.
Eventually, I was asked to instruct the nursing staff in the techniques Ron and I had learned by doing. We were not “certified” to perform CPR, much less teach it. But that didn’t stop us from doing our duty. The worst part of the whole experience? We didn’t have a practice manikin. Ron and I were best friends as well as work mates, thank God, because I would have to routinely lock lips with him demonstrating rescue breathing. I remember that like I remember the ear piercing…
In subsequent years I became an American Heart Association Instructor, training many, many people in the life-saving skill. An educated guess might be 3,000. As an EMT for 12 years I performed CPR on real people, locking lips before the AIDS epidemic changed everything, perhaps 300 times. As I never followed up on “my” patients as a stress management tool, I have no idea who survived or who succumbed.
On a related note: I rescued Stevie, my youngest brother, from the bottom of our swimming pool when he was just a tyke. My parents were having a patio pool party; Stevie slipped in unnoticed. I happened to look into the pool and saw him looking up at me wide-eyed three feet down. There was no drama, fanfare or emergency services. Besides me and Stevie, I don’t remember anybody noticing.
On a college field trip to the Missouri outback, Mr. Driscoll, my ex-cop Physiology professor began experiencing chest pain. Over the next several hours, he entrusted me with the whereabouts of his weapon, a loaded pistol, and had me drive him to the nearest medical center 80 miles away at high-speed in his vehicle in the middle of the night. I felt pretty good about that level of trust; he was a cop, and I was a long-haired college student. Do the math.
I’ve done some pretty stupid stuff, too, in my attempt to get as far from the madding crowd as possible: I’ve scuba dived with sharks sleeping in a cave, went looking for a reported family of sharks, alone, and induced my wife to pet a sleeping nurse shark on the tail. We lived to dive another day, unlike the nurse shark that reacted to being touched by a 14-year-old boy in Florida by latching onto his torso with a death grip which could only be treated by killing the innocent shark.
I also thought it was sui generis to dive in Hawaii during a tsunami alert. Naked.
By now you’re probably humming an old Patsy Cline/Willie Nelson tune in your head… “Crazy…”
There are undoubtedly more examples of my inimitable endeavor to be…myself, but I might be bordering on the boring, so I’ll close for now with this final anecdote:
What is the one truly unique aspect that completely separates me from the herd, the standout and unequaled fortuity for which I can take credit as the exclusive, exceptional and singular achievement on the planet?
My son, Jake, world citizen 3,869,000,001, give or take.
Here’s the way I look at it: Working with panels instead of boards is just another good excuse to acquire some new tools. Besides, if you want to build anything of any size, panels are the only way to get the job done with a minimum of labor and maximum satisfaction.
A panel is simply a large sheet of wood made from several thin sheets of veneer glued together and cut to a standard size, usually 4 feet by 8 feet. Call it plywood, because that’s what I’m talkin’ about, Willis. It’s been around for over 5 millenniums, first used in Mesopotamia during a shortage of quality wood; the Ancients bonded quality wood to lesser-quality wood to make a product that looked good and filled the need. In the 19th century, the son of the guy who invented dynamite developed the rotary lathe used to produce modern plywood, but the product hasn’t changed much over time. Today, many grades and decorative “faces” are available to meet any woodworking need.
Panels are available in thicknesses from approximately 1/8th inch to one inch and thicker. I say “approximately” because in recent years panels like other lumber have been shrinking in size due to manufacturers’ efforts to save a buck on raw material while providing a product meeting the needs of the market. You must be diligent at specifying, or at least checking the thickness dimension of the lumber you buy today, as there is apparently no compulsion to standardize thickness, and you see different dimensions in similar products.
For example: “Three-quarter inch” plywood at one time was, universally, 3/4 inch thick. Not so any more. Now thicknesses for “three-quarter inch” plywood might measure 11/16, 23/32 or 3/4 inch. On really lower quality material, the thickness might vary over these dimensions within the same sheet. The problem here is quality control and sloppy manufacturing techniques.
Regardless if you buy quality product or imported crap, measure the thickness to know what dimension you are working with. One example of where this is important is routing channels to fit fixed shelves in a cabinet: if you assume the panel is 3/4 inch thick and rout a 3/4 inch wide groove to accept the shelf thickness, and the actual thickness is something less, the fit will be sloppy. Of course, this is the voice of experience speaking to you…
I have found a lack of consistency for similar products stocked at my local lumber yard over time because they buy from different mills and countries. I have learned to measure thickness twice and cut once (hopefully), whereas once upon a time this could be trusted as a given. Not so any more.
Along the same line, cheaply made panels have voids in the interior (core) plies, and sometimes lack adhesive in spots causing “blisters.” Here are a couple of photos depicting extremes of quality in plywood:
The picture on the right is not too far off some of the stuff I have purchased in my effort to obtain stock for cabinet carcasses. I usually am able to pull bowed pieces into flat sides and bottoms using screws and clamps, but I have returned pieces which should never have been on the retail shelf. I completely changed horses in midstream on my latest cabinet project having found an unlikely source (Lowe’s) for a better quality maple plywood to replace my old birch standby which has increased in price and declined in quality significantly. I had mercy on my lumber yard by keeping a birch panel which developed an S-curve within a week of purchase, because I knew they couldn’t/wouldn’t be able to resell it. Their response? “Thank you.”
Cutting panels to size for cabinets, chests, drawer boxes, etc. should be done accurately so the finished piece is square and well-built. To do this requires careful measuring, marking, and use of a straightedge to guide the saw.
Alternatively, you could build your own panel saw from available plans for a few hundred dollars. You typically see panel saws at cabinet shops and lumber yards where they will cut down a panel you purchased for a nominal fee. The saw carriage and frame take up hardly any space, so if you use panels a lot, it might be a good time-saving investment. Like any tool, you need to check it for accuracy, mainly squareness, from time to time to ensure cuts are plumb and parallel to the factory edges.
The kind of straightedge you use to guide your circular saw across the panel can be a shop-fabricated jig or a specialty tool. I have used each and prefer the tool over the jig. The jig is useful, but requires extra clamps, whereas the tool is self-contained. Of course, the jig is made of scrap wood, so the cost is nil.
To build the jig, cut two pieces of half-inch stock to the approximate widths depicted in the drawing, and lengths to match your application: 97 inches to rip full panels or shorter if you only rip 48-inch widths or less. In any event, the bottom piece should be wider than the main (wider) shoe on the saw to be used with the jig. Once the two pieces are glued together, run the saw along the edge created by the top piece to trim the jig to width. (Place the wider part of the shoe on the jig when trimming for full support of the saw on the jig.)
The jig has a couple of minor drawbacks: If you make it out of particle board, it will start to fall apart with repeated use. Secondly, you cannot use the full depth of cut of your saw because the half-inch stock the saw travels on raises the saw (reduces maximum depth of cut) by that half-inch. Again, it was free…
The clamping straightedge saw guide is one of the cooler tools to add to your tool box; unfortunately it won’t fit in your toolbox, so you have to hang it on the wall… It is also relatively indestructible, but it is possible to break the plastic part(s), or lose the roll pin if you try hard enough. The guide itself is made of lightweight aluminum (aluminium to our readers in the U.K. and Canada.) The sliding clamps are plastic and can break; the roll pin holds the clamp handle in place and can migrate out of its holes with use (just tap it home if it moves.) With a little care, these issues are no problem.
The technique for cutting a panel accurately involves a few skills in which you are already gaining proficiency: measuring, marking and measuring. Yes, but this is a little different from simply measuring twice and cutting once.
First, turn the panel “good” side down. Circular saws cut “up,” so this will give a clean cut on the good side; unless the blade is dull, the top cut should be clean, too. Measure the distance between the outside edge of the saw shoe that will ride against the straightedge, and the inside of the saw blade. Strive to be as close as possible, as this measurement will ultimately affect how accurate your final cut dimension will be. So, measure to the blade overhang, also known as the side clearance, the outermost point of the kerf. On many saws, this is a round number (thank you engineers.) On my little Porter Cable Saw Boss it’s 4 inches precisely.
I can’t say enough about my little (6″) Saw Boss. It’s made in the good old U. S. of A. for one thing (at least mine is…) I bought it used at a pawn shop years ago, accidentally tumbled it down a 50 foot embankment (bent the shoe), and used it continuously over a period of 10 years in my business. It has never missed a beat. New they are not cheap, but worth the lifetime of service they give. (Remember the ancient maxim about tools: You gets what you pays for.
The six-inch saw is ideal for cutting panels: It is relatively light-weight, albeit with a hefty feel, lots of power to cut through 3/4 inch plywood like a hot knife through margarine, and with a left-side view of the action for us right-handed wood butchers. The best saw blade for cutting panels has a large number of teeth for a smooth, tear-out free cut.
Which brings us to the subject of: Which side should you set up your straightedge on, left or right? Or, another way to phrase this query: Keeper or waste side of the panel?
Below is a depiction of the saw and guide set up on the waste (scrap) side of the panel.
See any potential issues with this set-up? This is perfectly acceptable as a way to orient the equipment vis-a-vis the cut line. (When I spell-checked “vis-a-vis,” the suggested revisions were: bis-a-vis, via-a-vis, vi-a-vis, vs-a-vis, and is-a-vis. What the h-e-double hockey sticks was that programmer smoking?) However, what might happen if you, oh say, sneeze or violently fart while making your cut? Where is your saw likely to migrate? That’s correct! Into “the Workpiece!” Scratch one perfectly good $180-per-sheet aromatic cedar panel. This stuff doesn’t grow on trees you know! (oh, wait..what?)
Avoid this mini-disaster by setting up your saw and guide on the keeper side of the cut. Then, if a dog should bite you in the shop, you won’t ruin the good piece when you react by leaping onto the work table.
So…Remember the measurement from the edge of the saw shoe to the blade kerf? Pull your tape measure from the corner of the keeper piece to the exact dimension you want the piece cut. Now, subtract that measurement; in my case, it’s always 4 inches on the nose. Make a narrow pencil mark at the edge of the panel and perpendicular to the edge. Duplicate this mark on the opposite edge. These two marks are your reference marks to align the clamping straightedge. Practice aligning the straightedge at precisely the same spot on the reference marks, showing the same amount of pencil mark on each one. To ensure the straightedge, and, hence, the cut will be perpendicular to the edge, measure back from the “wrong” side of the straightedge to the corner where you started. Measure the other side, too. These dimensions should be equal. If not, double-check your work. Practice will refine this technique, but following this routine will help avoid costly mistakes, like cutting a trapezoid instead of a rectangle. (Can I get a witness?)
The shop-built jig is simply aligned with reference marks located at the dimension you want to cut, because the edge of the jig is where the blade cuts. With the jig, it’s important to clamp the jig on the keeper side–not the waste side–to avoid cutting the piece too short by the width of the kerf.
The saw on the left is getting a real workout. Cutting the full depth of the blade is bound to put a strain on the motor, and will shorten its life if done consistently. Careful attention to measuring and marking will ensure you can duplicate panel sizes (e.g., for cabinet walls) without stacking panels. A way to preserve blade sharpness is to set the blade depth to exceed the thickness of the panel by one full tooth (about 1/8 inch) and no deeper. This will present the maximum number of teeth in the cut while cutting. Like a router, if it’s possible to push the saw against the guide rather than pull it toward you (like she’s doing), do it. It’s easier to control and less work.
Support the panel on pieces of lumber to avoid binding the saw blade as the cut pieces separate. Finally, leave the saw in place as it winds down to avoid binding the blade and/or marring the cut edge.
The edge of the panel shows the exposed plies, so something needs to be done to dress this up. This is where edge banding comes in handy.
Edge banding can be purchased by the foot for smaller projects, or in rolls of 50 and 300 feet. It comes glued for application with pressure or heat, or without glue. I have not had the best luck with a variety of trimmers to remove the excess tape (edge banding is usually supplied in widths larger than standard plywood thicknesses.) My tried-and-true method, although slow, is to use a razor knife to cut the tape against a metal putty knife as a backer. The trimmers have a tendency to tear out the wood grain along the trimmed edge. You also have to pay attention to the direction of the grain and push or pull the trimmer with the grain. So, double edge trimmers are innately troublesome (to me, at least.)
Whether you are building a dog house or your dream kitchen, the ideal product for efficient and attractive woodworking projects has been around for over 5000 years. What other wood-related thing can you say that about, except maybe the termite…