Saturday, March 14, 2009

Discovering Blocks

My dad taught high school woodworking. The "shop," as he called it, was his haven. Dad spent many Saturdays creating fine cabinets as well as tinkering (away from Mom). If it was his element, it was my playground.

For my sister and me, there were many options in the shop. With the concrete floors it was big enough for roller skating. The labyrinth of bulky machinery was perfect for hide and seek. We spread out with markers and paper on the butcher block tables. The storeroom was a treasure trove of color and texture––I walked slowly inside, sliding my hands over rare woods, inhaling each kind. We drew on the chalk board. We arranged tools––vises, hammers, screwdrivers, nails. With help I used the jig saw and learned to turn a vase on the lathe. We marveled at the dust collector. 

But, for us kids, the epicenter of the room was the gargantuan box of wood scraps. Jamie and I scooped out heaps. We glued them together. We drew on them. Nailed into them. They become odd sculptures or objects for our dolls. My dad was proud of this and keep the box full, maybe for nearly the same reason I keep my family fridge stocked with milk, bread and peanut butter. Dad also gifted blocks to parents, teachers, and schools. For him, there was no better gift than blocks for a child. It was like giving her keys to a universe of creation. Montessori teachers agree with him now and call this kind of play "loose parts." Sometimes folks weren't as amazed when Dad gave their kids a dusty box of wood (like he, somehow, had "loose parts").

I would be grateful for one of those boxes (or better yet, more than one) as Matt has discovered blocks recently in a big way. He plays for hours, creating houses, bridges, roads. It seems to be the only thing he does now that is quiet and focused, intent.

And, for my dad, the real gift would be seeing Matt discover blocks.