Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Pinewood Derby

I was 8 years old.

My dad and I were staring at a block of wood on his tool bench. There was a bag of accessories lying next to it; nails, wheels and instructions that were no bigger than a matchbook. The paper had basic measurements, which in the end, could not be exceeded.

They say that artists can look at something in its raw form and see the finished product inside. Standing before this block of wood, it was clear were no artists.

Every boy who goes through Cub Scouts, and every father of said boy, has a rite of passage known as the Pinewood Derby. A contest where the boy wants the fastest car. And a contest where the dad wants the most impressive piece of 9 inch wood to emerge from his basement. (errrr, that sounds really awkard)

I’ll cut right to the chase: we were neither that boy nor dad.

As I packed up my parents last week, we came across many things that marked my past—my beer can collection, a GI Joe with Kung Fu Grip, our first baseball mitts. Lots of memories.

But for me, the items I treasure the most are my three Pinewood Derby cars. I didn’t have the closest the relationship with my father back in those days, but having these cars seems to make that disappear. These were a creation of both of us… a time when we had to work as one.

Looking back, the making of these cars was 100 times greater than even coming in 27th place. (Don’t tell that to the 2nd grader who went to the corner of the room and cried when he was eliminated in the first round.) These represent a time when life was simple and a dad & son really could work together on things.

derbyWe meticulously drew out plans. I learned the difference between a jigsaw & a coping saw as well as a screwdriver & an awl. I learned how to hollow out the bottom of wood and melt lead to give it extra weight. We learned that by using the produce scales at the grocery stores, we could weight it to the ounce. (Yeah kids, produce departments had scales back then.) We took a plain piece of wood and created something beautiful from it.

I totally want my son to experience that first form of male bonding; where campfires lit with a red light bulb and farting are the coolest things ever. I want to help him move from being a bobcat to a bear. And I want to build a pinewood derby car with him.

This is just one more thing that childhood memories are made of. At 39, I can look back and see what a simple boy and his dad can create when they work together. And in 35 years, I’d like my son to be able to be able to the same.



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