“King of Swamp Castle: When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England”
When I was a kid living in Oshawa, Ontario, we lived on a street that had a creek at the bottom of it called, appropriately I suppose, “The Oshawa Creek”. As young adventurers, we used to spend hours and hours of our lives busying ourselves with adventures on the riverbanks horsing around with all sorts of activities. One of my favorite obsessions was building boats. Make no mistake here, not neat, kiddie little pieces of wood with a stick – boats, I mean BOATS – ones you could sit in. I was about 10 years old! I would hound and beg my parents to help me find and buy wood…now that I think of it, I am not sure where the wood came from… at any rate, I would spend WEEKS building these boats in our basement in my Dads workshop. I would even paint them. When you think of popular “hovering parent styles” of today you have to laugh. I was down there building in that workshop with no parent in sight to warn me of my clearly impending failure and, I am sure, PAINFULLY obvious lack of skill and nautical process.
At any rate, I built, built and built until my FIRST boat was….”done”. I don’t know where my Dad was, God love him, but my Mother came down to the workshop and was fully committed to facilitating a launch party, announcing a date and organizing an appropriate processional composed of neighborhood kids, semi reluctant house guests from the U.K and likely, curious on-lookers. I can remember it like it was yesterday. She wasn’t a looker, but she was mine. A simple “V” hull design, with gaps and holes only “hope” could plug and a look that a even primitive man would have scoffed at. Nonetheless, we pressed on. The launch was to be! Paint dripping off the “first JWS Flagship” the boys from the neighborhood carried the 8′ nautical disaster to its first voyage. Finding the deepest section, ceremoniously locating the perfect spot for the launch of my first boat, my first creation, my amazing feat of skill. I directed the “launch crew” in to the cool sweeping waters of the test zone. We eventually positioned the craft and lowered it with a splash, at which time, of course, it promptly sunk straight to the bottom. It didn’t even have the courtesy to hover temporarily like in the cartoons. It just sank! I don’t remember what happened then. I do know that I continued, undeterred, to build boats that summer, until I ran out of interest or maybe out of wood, or maybe BOTH! To tell the truth, I can’t remember. What I can remember is this. Building those boats gave me a feeling of adventure, a feeling of purpose. It didn’t matter that I never succeeded, at least not to me.
My path in boat building was rather tenuous at best after that. Thank goodness I eventually took my interest in building things towards more lucrative, and dryer things like summer jobs for the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority. There under the care eye of a wonderful carpenter, Maurino, I learned to build bridges and pavilions. (sometimes OVER swamps…) What a gift it was, working with him. After that, came “Dave’s Decks and Fencing” out of Oshawa Ont. where Dave Richardson taught me the meaning of building things well, and then of course Tom Leedle at “Leedle Landscaping” in Ashburn, ON. who helped me start JWS Woodworking and Design Inc. with a Canada Summer Venture loan in the summer of 1986. To all of these people, I owe a huge debt for training me to build things that, to follow the analogy, didn’t sink!
As you already now know, thank goodness, I switched from building boats to building decks ( not in swamps though, they sink…) and later on to building cabinetry, building lives and building a business. Not all of the things we have try as business owners or teachers “float” the first time. Sometimes they, sink, heck sometimes they “burn down, fall over and sink.” The point is, we face that adversity and we carry on because we know, if we keep on keeping at it, “we will have the strongest castles in all the land….”
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