Woodworking Class by Octo G. Enario
There are many transplants residing in our retirement community. Our gym is full of them, or should I say us. Any time I hear a fellow gym rat mention something about “the locals,” my mind drifts back to an early experience I had as a transplant.
Over the years, I have noticed fairly consistent behavior from displaced people finding themselves in a new, foreign cultural environment. The transplants feel disoriented living in an alien society. They do not know the ropes. Much of the experience developed in the former location does not work as well in the new society. In obvious contrast, everyone else outside this minority group seems to navigate very well. To counter this feeling of uneasiness and inferiority, the group begins to create a myth about the superiority of its minority compared to the dominant majority.
My Italian immigrant forebears took pleasure in accentuating the weaknesses of the Americans, even though new arrivals were in a tenuous position themselves. They had little education, did not speak the local language, and had little wealth. Yet they poked fun at the majority at every opportunity, and they exaggerated their own European and Italian traditions. It made them feel stronger in the alien environment.
When I was stationed in Germany, my fellow GIs and I developed a myth of superiority concerning the local German majority. We also poked fun at any perceived weakness observed in the German society. Of course, we only expounded on this topic among ourselves, out of earshot of any German. Because we were young, away from home, and unfamiliar with the local language, we relied on this myth to offset the uncomfortable feelings of alienation, just as the Italian immigrants had done.
When my first wife and I relocated from our home turf, Brooklyn, to Winston-Salem, N.C., we found ourselves in a culture somewhat different from our own. We did not arrive as poor immigrants or young soldiers. I was coming as an upwardly mobile executive with a dominant employer in the city. Nevertheless, we felt somewhat insecure about our ability to fit in.
We met other transplants to the area and readily embraced the myth they had created about the transplants vs. the locals. The transplants, mostly Yankees from large cities, felt they were better educated, more cosmopolitan and worldly than the locals with their quaint, small-town, southern customs. This denigration of the majority helped bolster the egos of the insecure transplants.
With this as background, let me move on to the woodworking story. After my wife and I were all settled into our new home, we investigated some possible leisure-time activities to help us assimilate into our new homeland. The local technical college was offering weekend classes in woodworking. This looked interesting, so we signed up for Basic Woodworking 101.
About 20 people arrived for the first class, and we all signed up. The new-student information form asked for the number of years of education. I filled in 18 years. I looked around at the other students’ forms and saw much lower numbers, including a few single digits. My ego got a nice boost, and I started to feel comfortably superior. As I haughtily handed my completed form to the teacher, I thought that possibly there was some truth to the transplants’ myth. Maybe we new arrivals were of a more cultured stock. The teacher would surely recognize that I would be an above average performer in this class.
The class went on for eight weeks. We had only one project — to construct a simple three-piece desktop bookstand. After designing, cutting, sanding, and painting our stands over the two- month period, we were ready to hand in our finished product. The teacher came to each of our worktables to assess our work. Feeling my usual sense of superiority in this class, I showed my bookstand to the teacher. It was very smooth, nicely shellacked, and well constructed. I expected to receive high accolades. The teacher picked up the stand and diplomatically mentioned that, while it was well finished, it was quite different from the other 19 in the class. I looked around and exclaimed, “Hey, they all did theirs upside down!” I thought to myself, “These other less educated students could not follow even the simplest of instructions.” The teacher then broke the news to me gently. My stand was upside down. It took awhile for me to fully comprehend his words. Finally, the truth sank in, and my ego bubble was quite deflated. How the mighty had fallen!
From that time on I have kept that bookstand on my desk to remind me of the pitfalls of hubris.