In 1928, seven students at Clemson University, along with their faculty advisor, set out to build an airplane. Though "Little 372," as it was known, had a brief and fitful flying career, it is thought to be the first airplane built by college students in America. It now hangs in the state museum of South Carolina as an emblem of ingenuity and determination.
To the seven members of the 1928 Clemson Aero club, their advisor was a teacher and mentor. To my family, he was known simply as "Boppy."
Boppy taught at Clemson and ran the woodshop there for decades. His specialty was furniture, and pieces of his handiwork are scattered across the eastern seaboard among the members of my mother's family. And among my mother and her sisters' fondest memories is flying from the trees in airplane swings fashioned by Boppy. Though he died the year I was born, his impact even in my life has been profound in ways I am only now coming to understand.
When my son was born, we gave him one of Boppy's names. And I became interested again in Little 372. I did a cartoon-y little illustration of the plane and it became sort of a totem for my little boy. My father-in-law, himself a woodworker, loved the story of Little 372 and of the airplane swings.
On my son's second birthday, his grandfather unveiled what he had been working on for months.
None of us is blessed with a great oak like the one at my great-grandfather's old house. So my father-in-law brought the swing inside, and recreated Little 372 as a glider from maple, walnut, oak, and ipe. It is truly a thing to behold. My favorite detail? Where the wing is attached to the fuselage, the bolts are covered by wooden peanuts. Wing nuts. Makes me smile every time.
It's easy to write off craft and home cooking as mere domestic fluff. But I believe that the drive to create— whether the medium is wood, metal, beads, pastry, felt, stock, paper, or pixels—is what connects us all to our history, to what makes us human.
When I draw a little airplane cartoon, or my father-in-law builds a glider, we are both connected by the invisible thread of immortality to the makers and doers who came before us. When we meditate on how to turn an idea into reality, when we sign our work: we are connected.
And now, as I watch my little boy grow and stake a claim on his interests and passions, I finally see what has been in front of me all of my life: As he dons his yellow hard hat and builds a brick yard of Legos, as he tells his dad to pause the DVD so that he can draw a picture of the screen, he is showing me that the drive to create is in all of us; that when we are at our best, he is, I am, we all are builders, makers, and doers.
Read Making Stuff: Part 1 here.