I once took a few weekend timber framing courses, at an establishment I won’t mention for reasons of privacy. What was remarkable to me, was not the course itself, it was something else altogether.
The guy who ran the course seemed like a happy guy. A slim older dude in his sixties, with white hair who seemed to have found his mien in life. He had the vibe of somebody you might want to squeeze for secrets. He did not fit the outer aspect of a sage, but this only added to the intrigue. From the outset, he was a collection of things which did not add up.
I was scheduled to meet him at his house early Saturday morning, and I was pumped because I LOVE timber frame. It’s one of my bucket list things, to build at least a timber framed shed in my lifetime. Timber frame is the oldest of traditions, coupling what has proven to work over milienium, with the unique tensile properties of wood. Good building began with a basic premise. You had to ensure that what you make will not fall down around your head over time. Hence, most timber framed structures are actually OVER-built by modern day engineering standards.
I envisioned the teacher to be living in a timber-framed palace that was a personal ode to his craft, but I was rudely mistaken. I actually passed his house a few times because it was not what I expected. The instructor fit the proverb that the children of the shoemaker go barefoot, because his home was not a palace, neither was it timber framed.
His domicile was quite unassuming, and when I went inside he was there with his wife drinking coffee on a pine table in a tiny kitchen. I tried to hide my immediate disappointment as we made some small talk. The home had that tired look that people in the city hate, the long time veneer of things left unchanged. It was outdated by a designer’s standards, with wallpaper and kitschy country shelves, the evidence of someone who has long ceased to care about style. The worst sin, was that some of the rooms were shod with that Gawd-awful dark brown printed paperboard panelling from the 1970’s that just cries cheap. For someone who made a living working in wood, I found this last crime almost unforgivable.
Turns out he had an interesting story. He had been a farmer, and had once owned a large property. His grandfather had taught him the ancient craft of timber framing, out of the practical necessity for repairing old barns whose members were rotting and needed replacements. He had originally spun those learnings, into a bit of side work, repairing other people’s barns. He didn’t give up farming however, because he wanted to change jobs, it was a decision forged from practical necessity. Life can be like that.
It also turned out that he had been married three times. His present and third wife, was also coincidentally his first wife. They were Shakespeare’s ironic tale twice-told. What made the story interesting, was the wife in the middle. She had taken the farm, while the first and third wife had settled for the man.
I thought a lot about this odd scenario because it did not make conventional sense. When I brought up the topic of a timber framed house, he said, “Oh, timber framed houses are for the rich people, I can’t afford that”. It did not seem to bother him. Moral of the story, I think, is that life can throw a lot at you. What you see on the surface cannot capture the storms of life that will knock you off course. This guy had enough money to get by, he had work that suited him, and someone at home who loved him. It’s a version of the proverbial internet meme of the fisherman and the businessman. The business man lectures the fisherman on the merits of capitalism, the end goal that he could retire to pursue leisure hobbies like fishing. The fisherman assesses his life and says, “but why would I change anything? I already fish and I am already happy”.
I think discontent can be the realm of those who never had a real problem. But for everyone else, maybe life has handed them a cloud with a silver lining if they are able to cast off those things which are of appearance only, and settle for the things that truly matter. When life shakes you hard enough, you will figure out what they are.
I hope in the end this guy will get to build himself a timber framed palace. But if he never gets around to it, I suspect he will still be content.