OPINION

Finding my special talent

Ed Rood

Talent is a person’s greatest treasure. It’s that little spark of genius we are born with, but have to find. For some that special ability is easy to discover, for others … well, we may spend a lifetime looking and never find it.

As is the case with so many topics, I can think back to when my high school teacher, Mrs. Margaret Wilson, spoke about talent during an English class in the mid-1950s.

Mrs. Wilson never stuck completely to the subject matter she was hired to teach. She often stated, “If a person goes through a day without learning something new, then that is a lost day.” Evidently, there were days when she figured if we weren’t going to pick up something new in English, she had best steer a little off course.

One such day, I remember her telling us about talent. Someone had answered a question with a rather foolish response. In order not to embarrass the student, Mrs. Wilson noted that although he was not especially enlightened in English, that student had an outstanding talent in basketball.

Not only did this get him off the hook, it also opened up a new subject for Mrs. Wilson. She continued with a few stories from her many years of teaching … and living.

After spending nearly three-fourths the class on a couple of special stories, she summed up her lesson by noting that God gave everyone a special talent and it was up to him or her to find it. If we went through life not finding that special ability, well, that would be an unforgivable sin. So, from that day on, I left no door unopened in my quest to find my special talent. Which brings me to the time in my life when I explored the world of woodworking.

As a senior in high school, I had elected to take manual training instead of business arithmetic for two reasons. The first, as I just mentioned, was to determine if I had a special talent in woodworking. The second was that the world of mathematics was not a friendly place for me to inhabit.

Our manual training instructor was none other than Mr. E.L. Hodgin (our school superintendent). What little suffering Mr. Hodgin had been spared in his position as head of the school, he would more than make up for teaching manual training.

The good news for Mr. Hodgin was there were but a small number of students interested in taking the course. The bad news was that Slick and I were among those students.

After a semester of concentrating mostly on draftsmanship and blueprints (and throwing woodblocks when Mr. Hodgin was out of the room), we moved on to the world of sawdust and nails.

All the preliminary stuff had been a pain in the neck for me. I wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty: building something.

Our first project was to construct a wooden lamp. The completed lamp was to look like a stack of wooden blocks piled on each other with an electric light socket on top. I figured this would be a snap, considering all the woodblocks we had been tossing the first semester.

The picture and accompanying instructions made it look simple, but after a couple of weeks of cutting, pasting, sanding and finishing, my project resembled a heap of fractured tinker-toys.

Things got worse. We graduated up to the wood lathe. While others turned out ornate lamp bases and gavels, my project looked more like a pregnant toothpick.

In desperation, I brought an old roll-top desk from home to refinish. I tore the desk apart and sanded on it for the next couple of months. By the time it was ready for a coat of varnish, I had forgotten how to put it back together. All I had was a big jigsaw puzzle.

With the assistance of the rest of the class, I finally ended up with a complete desk once more. There were a few extra parts, but the end product did closely resemble the original desk.

Somehow I survived the course and received a passing grade. As a bonus, I concluded that woodworking was not my special ability. My parents, on the other hand, were gifted with several new items to hide in their attic.

As far as my special talent. Well, I guess I’m still looking.

(Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.)