Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Wish I Could Hang Out With Roy...

Having missed the entire first day of the Woodworking in America conference as I flew home from France, I arrived in Indianapolis late Friday, picked up Gail, and zoomed down to Berea, Kentucky where we arrived in the wee small hours of the morning on November 15th.

Dripping in the effects of sleep deprivation, I didn't expect to get a lot out of Saturday's classes, but I ended up with a distinctive Skiver experience. Following a standing room only lecture by Frank Klausz, Michael Dunbar, and Roy Underhill on techniques of making mortise and tenon joints, I was supposed to go to a class on Old School Chisel use taught by Adam Cherubini and Roy Underhill. I was, however, a little tired, and I was not in a great hurry to immediately go running across the campus to that class. So I stayed in the lecture hall and watched as Roy Underhill scampered about cleaning up his stuff.

Then it hit me…Roy was supposed to teach that next class of mine. No one would care that I was choosing to arrive late. Roy's tardiness would garner more attention. So I strolled up to the stage and politely asked Roy if he needed some help cleaning up. The first task I was given was to take a photo of Roy and Frank together. (Roy wanted the photo for a souvenir.)

(I snapped this picture with my camera as Roy was attempting to get his fired up.)

With the photography task completed I engaged in a more strenuous line of work, helping Roy move his tools and work benches over against a wall. Then, I helped Roy carry some of his tools for the next class down to his van, and the next thing I know, I am sitting in the passenger seat of Roy Underhill's van as the two of us cruise across campus toward his next class.

There is a chance I dreamed the whole thing given how sleepy I was, but in reality I managed to grab a little one on one time with St. Roy. I would like to tell you that I engaged in all manner of hip/"cool cat" conversation, but the reality is that I jabbered incoherently while helping to point directions to our destination.

A few hours later I again took the opportunity to chat with Roy as I happened to be sitting next to him at dinner.

(Last minute speech editing)

The neatest part of this experience is that on the floor between Roy and me sat his case full of props. Roy was scheduled to deliver the talk during dinner, and he had brought along several items from past episodes of The Woodwright's Shop to use as visual aids. As I looked into the case I saw Barley Twists, impossible dovetails, wooden threads, and bookstands.


As I stared into that case I began to recognize the role that PBS has played in my life. Somewhere in the jumble of my brain I thought of Mr. Fred Rogers, Ernie and Bert, the Keno Twins, and Jeff Smith (the Frugal Gourmet). Yet for me, the clear king among my PBS educators is Roy Underhill. And on a November day in 2008, with the cold Kentucky rain falling in Berea, I had the pleasure of finding out that St. Roy is a normal guy (who is as nice as can be) but is anything but ordinary.

2 comments:

Larry Chenoweth said...

Jeff,
I too was at this dinner. I am the guy in the blue denim shirt at the table in the background of your "last minute editing" picture."Sir Roy" surely is a storyteller with props. I was very nervous as he was swinging that axe in my direction while telling the Thoreau story about the axe head coming off.
This is about my third time of being at an event with "Sir Roy". The casual observer that knows only the occasional glimpse of him on "The Woodwright" might think him to be a dumb country hay seed. We both know nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone that has had the opportunity to meet, speak, and listen to "Sir Roy" as we have know that he is very learned any many area's including literature. He is a skilled teacher as we experienced in the seminars with the other craftsmen including Frank Klaus and Mike Dunbar. As we both know, "Sir Roy" allowed them to shine as he asked thought provoking questions so the seminar attendee could learn. We both know he knew the answers to these questions. The jig he set up with the glass and his mini camera to view Frank and Mike making mortises was very ingenious and informative.
We are truly blessed to have someone in the field of woodworking that is so exceptional while still so down to Earth for us all to try to emulate. His willingness to devote his entire adult life to teaching the old crafts so they do not die is much appreciated. He has made a big impact on woodworkers he will never meet.

Larry Chenoweth in Deltona, Fl. aka "Oldtoolseeker"

Mack said...

I wish I could hang out with Roy, too. Ironically, my wife and I were standing behind you & Gail in line for Roy's book signing, and I didn't make the connection. Rats.
When I got to the desk I pointed to Roy's dedication in his newest book, and told him I was a second-generation OldTools email list "Galoot" -- I joined it only a few months after it got started. He loved it enought that he signed my book, "To Mack, the original Galoot!" Don't mess with my Grandaddy's double-barrel, my crispy Independence Tools saws, or my new Underhill book!!