Launch!

I am not a big arts and crafts person; I never have been. In truth there are periods when I do engage in woodworking as a pastime, but as a general rule I leave the arts and crafts to others. Since we have had children, and particularly since we’ve been homeschooling my aversion to these little projects has become more pronounced. Arts and crafts just make a mess that needs to be cleaned up. True, the kids are often pleased with their little creations, but then arises the inevitable question of what to do with their stuff when the project is over. Do you keep it or toss it? And, if you decide to keep it, what are you going to do with it? And, then, how much of the stuff will you keep? It’s often a matter of determining how much emotional attachment the kids have with it. If I throw it in the trash while they’re sleeping will they miss it in the morning? Will they be upset that I have not fully appreciated their work? The toughest ones are the ones they make for you. “This is for you Daddy. I made it myself.” I’ve learned they usually don’t mind if you ask them what it is. I think the chance to answer that question gives them the most satisfaction. They are proud of the process and their creative powers and just want someone else to acknowledge it. That’s easy enough.

Now that the boys are a bit older the craft projects have become more involved. Lately they have discovered the joys of woodworking. I came home the other day and pushed the garage door opener button in the car to find that the garage space was used up by my saw horses. They had a craft of some considerable size on the blocks.

“What are you guys making?” I asked them thinking, When are you going to clear this mess out of the way so I can park my car in the garage?

“We’re making a raft,” they all beamed proudly. Isaac, Benjamin and David had the hammers and nails out and were busily cobbling something together.

Noticing the stout beams that formed the bed of this thing I asked, “Where did you get that wood?”

“Oh, we just found it.”

How to handle that one? Should I ask where they found it, anticipating the need for a lecture about petty theft? Or, should I take their word for it that they pulled it from a dumpster somewhere?

I opted for the latter and walked inside after admonishing them to be careful not to cut themselves with the tools.

For over a year now Isaac has been determined to find a way to get out onto Sike’s Lake, up the road from us. He pestered us for some time about the need for a boat of some sort. We were able to deflect his badgering by telling him we were expecting to move in the near future and that the less stuff we had the better. He kept at us for a while, but eventually gave it up; apparently not entirely.

The construction took place over several days and I was frankly glad of it as it gave them something constructive (no pun intended) to do with their free time in the afternoon. One by one I watched as old hunks of my lumber cast offs were fastened on to the burgeoning project. Each time I came out in the garage I gave it a careful inspection to ensure they weren’t hammering my “good hunks” of wood. Most of it has been sitting in the attic for months, even years, so it would have been hard to argue about it finally getting used. Still, I was trying to retain the parental upper hand.

Looking at the design of the thing I realized they would get wet trying to float it. “You know the raft Huck Finn made was probably ten feet by sixteen feet and made out of logs 12 inches in diameter. This thing is too small to hold you guys up.”

They were undeterred and kept hammering on more chunks of wood.

“Dad, can we have the old milk jugs?” Isaac asked me one day.

“You can have all you want. Are you going to use them on the raft?”

“Yeah, we’re going to nail them on to the bottom so it will float better.”

“OK” I said, wondering as I always do how they were going to make that happen. “You might want to glue the tops on first though.”

Eventually they gave up on the milk carton idea and moved on to gluing pieces of foam onto the bottom. It was a good idea, but the execution gave them trouble. The foam kept coming off. So, they sanded and planed the bottom to get a clean surface and managed to get most of them to stick.

The day of the first trial was exciting for everyone. All six of the kids, plus two of their neighborhood pals loaded the thing up on the garden cart and began the hike out to the lake. I gave Isaac and Benjamin some important tips on how to react when you fall into cold water with your clothes on. “Just don’t panic and start thrashing around.” I felt like a lawyer spelling out exclusions for any insurance claims they might bring.

It was quite a procession dragging this thing out there and we had not a few curious onlookers. At one point one of the “outriggers” fell off and David was sent home with all dispatch to retrieve a hammer and nails to fix it before it was baptized. Rather than wait, the group proceeded onwards.

The boys had earlier chosen a launch site and made haste to reach it allowing enough time to test the raft before needing to make a return for our usual dinner hour, which was fast approaching.

The raft was rolled down next to the water then carefully lifted into the shallows. It floated, but only just. The water splashed over the sides freely, wetting the feet and ankles of anyone who dared stand on the thing. It was clear that it wasn’t yet ready for any long voyage and so, the mission was scrubbed for the day.

After that, it was Styrofoam they were after. Last year, in search of a good cheap target for the bows and arrows they “found” in the dumpster at Midwestern State University (a story which was later corroborated when we loaded up on dozens of the arrows that had been similarly disposed) I found what I was looking for at Tractor Supply Co. These Styrofoam blocks were not products for sale, rather they were used as packing buffers between the beds of the trailers sold at the Supply Co. Every week they had a bunch of these things to get rid of and were pleased to give them to me for $1 each. They weren’t the best targets, they were too small. But, having remembered them, the boys decided they would be just the ticket for the raft.

They rode their bikes the first trip and found to their chagrin that no such blocks were available. When they returned disappointed, I explained to them where the blocks came from and what they needed to ask for at the shop. Having clarified the matter in their own minds they were confident they could do so in the minds of the helpful clerks at Tractor Supply. So, with all determination, they set out on foot the next day with the wagon in tow, confident the Lord would bless their hunt. They returned victorious some two hours later (it’s about a four mile round trip) and eagerly began the process of attaching the things.

Bear in mind that these are not small blocks. They’re about 2’ x 2’ x 3’. I had no idea how they would attach them. I held to a rapidly waning belief that the raft would be seaworthy and a growing feeling that someone was going to end up in the pond.

Still, they labored on convinced that the blocks would be the final solution.

The next day they brought home some rather attractive looking scraps of high quality plywood and immediately started applying them in various uses on the raft. I didn’t recognize the wood as mine and so asked them, “Where did you find that wood?”

“Well, it was in a dumpster next to one of the construction sites near here.”

I was beginning to think my boys were spending an inordinate amount of time digging through dumpsters.

I must confess that their method for attaching the blocks was effective and simple and, within 24 hours they were ready for another try.

This time it was just Isaac and Benjamin. Like the Wright brothers, it was these two whose determination and creativity had brought the thing to life. This time, with the blocks attached to the outriggers, it floated, in fact, it floated well. It floated so well that Benjamin, the inaugural pilot, was suspended about six inches above the level of the water. The raft was like a hydrofoil and it bobbed gently and serenely over the windswept waters. With a push pole in hand he quietly drifted away from the safety of the bank and out into the deeper waters. It was a proud moment and drew the attention of a number of folks who all said, “Wow, that’s really good.” I had to admit I was proud and even forgave the boys in my mind for the mess in the garage.

Since then the raft has been idle next to a friend’s house out by the lake. Hauling the ponderous bulk back and forth became too much of a chore. And, as it is with all craft projects, their interest has waned to the point of extinction. They’ve moved on to bigger and better things. I’m just not really sure yet what that will be.

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