Today I received an email from my brother—my baby brother—announcing that he will be a demonstrator at the national symposium of Segmented Woodturners (https://segmentedwoodturners.org/). If you don’t know what a segmented woodturning is, here are a few pictures of Tom’s work.
Impressive. And his annual Christmas gifts are always the high point of the day.
Tom’s story is one worth telling. The youngest of the Kenyon tribe, Tommy’s babble remained incomprehensible well past the day he entered kindergarten. Nor, when he entered first grade, could he learn to read. Baffled, many feared he was retarded, though he understood us perfectly well. Still, almost no one understood him.
Almost no one. Bucky, a neighborhood kid, was a stalwart exception. Bucky was as short as Tommy was tall, and Bucky was verbal, very verbal. Tommy was not, but he was a fighter. For years they fought each others’ battles. Bucky translated Tom’s speech to all comers; Tom fought any who mocked Bucky’s size. They were inseparable.
All of this was long before dyslexia or other perceptual disorders were recognized, but the mystery was finally diagnosed as an inability to distinguish the sounds of two or three similar letters—I don’t remember which. There followed years at the kitchen table where our mother drilled him, coached him and drilled him some more—a struggle that went on until adolescence. Then he grew. In my sister’s wedding pictures, ten-year-old Tom comes up to our six-foot father’s shoulder; in mine, two years later, he has topped him. At six-foot-five, basketball gave Tom an outlet for the frustration that had always plagued him, and the years of drilling paid off.
After two years at a small, Midwestern college, he took off from the academic world of his childhood and set off for California Polytechnic University where he became. an engineer. Married and father of two, he spent his career as an engineer in what is now Silicon Valley but then housed a large segment of the nation’s defense industry. He worked long hours and traveled extensively—doing what, none of us will ever know.
Then, in 2000, he retired—before I did, which I told him wasn’t right—and turned, or returned, to a childhood love of woodworking. Four years ago, Tom’s daughter, Shana, published a book chronicling his years of woodworking, “The Sawdust Chronicles 1965 – 2018”. Its theme is “50 Years of Making Sawdust and Waiting for Glue to Dry.” The book charts the progress of his woodworking, from cabinetmaking to furniture making to marquetry, to the segmented work above.
I remember one summer when we were living in Santa Barbara, Tom and a woodworking friend came down and stayed with us to attend a marquetry class. For a week, Tom came back shaking his head, muttering that it all escaped him—again I saw the frustrated five-year-old I remembered so well. Exasperated, he complained that they were doing nothing but inlaid flowers—in color! Ah! I thought. Few people know that Tom is also red/green colorblind. He went home still shaking his head, but our Christmas present that year was this:
That’s Tom. To me, the message of his journey is clear. Life is long. You may not be born into the world you belong, but there are many worlds and time. Time to travel through livelihood, parenthood, and return to a lifelong passion. Don’t let the struggles defeat you—they make the victories more golden.