Threshing The Wheat From The Chaff

| March/April 1974

The other day I was building a simple doorway in our stairway to keep the heat from going upstairs and therefore save fuel in our newly-installed furnace. I had measured out and sawed the old two-by-fours and fitted them into place. But I wasn't pleased. Neither was the wife. The old pieces were out of a roof, and had ugly notches cut in them. So we both agreed I should make it out of new lumber.

Thus, armed with my old door-frame pieces, I was off to Ansonia, Ohio, Lumber Company, to pick out some straight two-by-fours and have them cut. The correct measurements were well marked, so I thought, on the old pieces. All that remained was for the lumber yard shop man to transfer these measurements over to the new pieces, then trim and plane them a bit. I had the exact angle of the stairs marked clearly on the older pieces. How easy it was to transfer those marks over onto the new pieces. The big, whirring saw-blade trimmed and mitered them to 'perfection'. After paying the bill (as if in gold dust), I was soon back and trying to fit the new pieces onto the very old stairway. But, when it came to fitting the stair-rise angle into the new piece, I discovered that the shop man had sketched it onto the wrong side of the two-by-four. Thus, when it was placed against the wall, the neatly-mitered angle went down instead of up. What a dilemma. I couldn't go back and have the shop man replace it 'for free'. I would have to be paying double for what I was going to use. And last of all would I try and accuse the shop man of making a mistake, for he was so kind in trying to please me. Besides it would be forty extra miles of driving at a time when fuel and gas rationing was breathing down our necks.

I simply decided that, since buying new lumber is like mining gold, I would do my best to correct the error and use the same pieces. By my trusty old hand-saw I merely followed the corrective lines I drew, in spite of the wrong angles mitered at the lumber yard shop. The piece fitted fine up against the old stairway wall, allowing for the angled baseboard and the old railing which I left intact. But there was empty places both in the middle and at the bottom of my piece which have to be filled up in order to cover up the mistakes we made in wrongly transferring our angles from the old to the new piece.

I don't like to make such obvious errors as this. The easiest way would be for me to 'blame the shop man' for wrongly marking it. But I was there, too, and should have known better than to allow him to do it the wrong way. But I didn't. So I was as much to blame as he even a little more so.

One thing I have noticed is that many things I have taken to a shop to be cut, trimmed or planed, they have not fitted when I brought them back to nail in place. More than once, almost every time in fact, I've had to re-work the angles and notches by hand, filling up the empty places, made by the big machine. It has not always been the shop man's fault, nor his machine's. For machines are only limited in their ability to compensate for angles that have to be fitted in old houses that oftentimes have sagging floors, or wood beams that twist over the years and/or walls that lean out of plumb. But I have always managed to finish the work out by hand, and fill in here and there so no one, not even myself, was the wiser that, underneath somewhere, lay the hidden errors and mistakes.

The thought came to me that, 'Life is like that. It is costly and one must dig deeply into the pockets of his jeans in order to purchase a little of it. No one is able to go through life without making costly mistakes every day. Mistakes which we all too clearly see after they have been made. But the great value in life is to learn how to correct our lives, in spite of our errors. To make our lives over and get the measurements right, once again, after we've made the wrong marks, takes a lot of extra work, will power, resolution and time. But it is well worth it, if we want things to be right. Just like it was in making the correct angle over the wrong one in my stairway door frame, then covering and filling the empty places in again, to make it just as good and sturdy and perfect-appearing as if the mistakes hadn't been made.