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Memories of an Old Cabinetmaker

Updated on July 31, 2015

Dave and Steve

Those were their Anglicised names. They had immigrated to Canada from Bosnia back when Dave was still quite young. I called them by their Croatian names just because I think people prefer to hear their name in their own language. Steve brought the family to Canada to pursue better opportunities. I don't know all the circumstances surrounding their leaving the old country. After arriving in Canada Steve's wife left him so it was just Dave and Steve working together. The two of them brought a very knowledgeable mix of old and new to the table. They were good people to work for. I don't have any pictures of them so the pictures in this article are just things I've found that I think are appropriate. Probably better that way. I don't want to mess with their privacy.


The Family Nose

Father and son both had the same very prominent nose. Dave was quite self conscious about it but joked about it often. I didn't think it was that impressively large. Then again in high school I had an English instructor we called Zeke the Flavour Freak in reference to the old Frootloops toucan. That, my friends, was a big schnoz.

Dave told me that when his mother first separated from his father, he would disguise himself with a fake moustache and spy on her. He laughed and said, "How could she not recognize the nose?"

His favourite nose story though was when he waited in line to get his passport. He watched the guy in front of him get a thorough inspection for unique scars. Dave of course being a lifetime cabinetmaker like his dad looked over all the scars on his hands wondering which one might satisfy the official. When it was his turn, he started pointing out the various scars and the official stopped him short, "Don't worry about it. I got the nose."


Language Barrier

Dave could speak English without any difficulty. Steve on the other hand had a lot of trouble expressing himself. He would also get mixed up on things I didn't expect.

We had a job come through the shop for a hobby shop that sold model trains. The work was quite complex and required a mix of solid wood, engineered wood and orange melamine. The melamine was where Steve run into trouble. I looked up from the piece, I'm working on and he's over at the saw slicing up yellow melamine. I laid my tools down and ran over to stop him.

"No! No! It's supposed to be orange."

He smiled and nodded, "Dis orange."

"No! This isn't orange. This is banana."

A light went on in his eyes as he finally understood. I have a talent for understanding mutilated English. I think that's what they liked about me the most.

Instrument Made From Wood


Exceptional Knowledge and Skill

As an industrial woodworker, I'm not real fond of cutting into solid birch. I called it zipperwood because a lot of those trees lived tortured lives before being turned into lumber. When you cut into them the internal pressure gets released and they bend all over the place. I have heard of a birch log in a sawmill breaking loose from the mill carriage after having the first slab cut off because of the amount of pressure grown into the log. I had to split a very long piece in another shop once and am only slightly exaggerating when I say I ended up with two pretzels.

Dave told me about a trip they made to the lumberyard to select materials. The sales person showed them an impressive board and spent a great deal of time praising it. While he was doing that Steve was carefully examining the grain. When the salesman was finished his spiel, Steve told him that the tree had grown on a rocky hillside and they wouldn't be buying that useless piece of firewood. Dave shrugged to the salesman and said, "he used to go into the bush and get his own wood. He knows what he's talking about."

I doubt if I could figure out that much just looking at the grain of a piece of wood. The man deserves a little bit of credit.

Dave showed me a picture of his dad as a young man during the thirties. He was part of a band with his friends. He was standing with his double bass (looks like a giant cello). He harvested and cut the materials himself and then built the instrument from the ground up. In the old black and white photo, that double bass looked flawless.


They Don't Make Them That Tough Any More

Early Monday morning, I arrived at work and Steve greeted me as usual. He looked kind of different though. He was a little more difficult to understand than normal as well. Sounded like he wanted me to call my dentist and make and appointment for him. I looked to Dave for help.

"Oh yeah, his teeth were hurting him too much on the weekend so he took some pliers and pulled the remaining ones out himself."

Steve nodded and gave me a toothless smile. He wanted an appointment to get measured up for dentures. I wasn't as surprised by all of this as some people might be. I actually enjoyed sharing this with my dentist's receptionist.

He was genuinely tough. He was missing pieces of three different fingers. Dave told me that when he cut the tip off his thumb he went to the hospital to sew it up and then went back to work.

During World War II Croatia and Germany were allies. He spent most of the war doing woodworking building planes for the Luftwaffe. When allied bombing got too much for his nerves he walked home - on the eastern front. My ancestors were Dutch and built a hideout room in the manure pile to avoid being pressed into service there.

They just don't make them that tough any more.



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    • Pico Triano profile image

      John 3 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada

      Glad you liked it.

    • Cynthia Hoover profile image

      Cynthia Hoover 3 years ago from Newton, West Virginia

      This is a very enjoyable read! I appreciate you sharing it!