Saturday, December 09, 2017

El Carpintonto

 El Carpintonto
 Antonio SolisGomez

My stepfather, Jesus Parral called himself a carpintonto or a wood butcher and often when the outcome of a project was lacking in perfection, he would say "alcabo no es piano," the understanding being that he practiced rough carpentry and not cabinet making. I however practice cabinet making in a rustic sort of way and have just finished a new workbench.

Rough slab of mesquite for my bench

I often think of my stepfather, who had married my mother when he returned from the war. He had seen a lot of killing, having landed in Normandy, fighting his way through France and Italy and marching through Germany all the way into Berlin.  Once home, he supported the family by becoming a carpenter, inspired by his carpenter uncle Aniceto and learning the trade in a Conservation Corp Camp, (CCC) as a teen during the Depression.

Cutting a straight edge by hand

We learned early on that he had a dual personality, one that was gentle and caring and one that could be cruel and violent, making me wary and fearful lest he be in a bad mood. My brother and I often felt the sting of his leather belt across our backside, sometimes deservedly as we were prone to naughtiness but sometimes without cause.
He was also a taskmaster often wanting a helper/gopher when he worked on his car and later, on weekend side jobs, dragging my brother or me to help him.  He wasn’t a patient man nor a good teacher and he barked orders the entire time, mostly to hand him a tool or to hold a piece of wood that he was sawing or to clean up. The work was dirty, tiring and I resolved then that I would go to college and never work with my hands.

As a teen I learned that he was illiterate and then I understood why he forbade my brother and me to read in the house but not until adulthood did I began to understand other aspects of his personality.  By then I had seen him sparingly as he had thrown my brother and me out of the house after we had finally subdued him when he hit our mother.  I was fifteen and went to live with my grandmother and never lived with him or my mother again.

Using the table saw to square the lumber

My stepfather had been raised by his maternal-grandmother because his mother didn’t want him or his sister around.  Teodora, his mother, was like an evil character from a Dickens novel.  When she finally brought him and his sister home as a teens, it was only to enroll him in the CCC in order to get his family allotment and to sell the daughter to an older man.  When he went into the army, she had him send her some of his military pay for “safe keeping”, money she then squandered.

We began to repair our relationship when I was in college and after I married and graduated, I would call him to give me a hand with projects around the house, and he would call me to read letters that he received from the union, Social Security, the VA, IRS, DMV, etc. as he never learned to read.

The squared mesquite slabs and two pieces from an older workbench

By then he and my mother had divorced, two of their boys now adults, and a daughter and a son still-living at home and in school. One thing in his favor during those turbulent years was that he showed no favoritism; he was mean to everyone. After the divorce he remarried and had a new son and he spent his retirement raising and selling canaries.

Beginning to plane and sand

Slowly I also stopped having the bad dreams of him chasing me at night and I running through the neighborhood, jumping fences, crossing yards, climbing roofs, all in an effort to elude him.

All the parts sanded and ready to stain & assemble

And I developed a passion for working wood and despite those early traumas I was glad I had some early exposure to tools, some of those tools that belonged to my stepfather ending up in my own toolbox.

 The finished workbench measuring 84" in length and 20" wide with a trough in the center below the surface.



msedano said...

Antonio, welcome as the regular Saturday columnist! I was a carpintonto, too, CCC-trained Dad with the same style.


A great post! Welcome aboard, Antonio!

Anonymous said...

Suave, Antonio. Great how you worked the fotos into your bio, some of which reminded me of my own.

I do some woodwork, but am probably more tonto than carpin. Where did you get mesquite that wide? Quiero. I'm about to take on my biggest project ever. 24" wide walnut for 16 ft. of kitchen countertops. Híjole espero that I don't tonto it into algo feo. Perhaps one day we can talk madera over unos tragos. Buena suerte, RudyG