A Pure Unbroken Line

When Karin’s daughter Maya has misbehaved she is sent to the woodshed (even in this day and age) for an armload of wood to pile by the stove. So far the woodpile is about 56-inches high and Maya is a 5’ 2” tall twelve year old. I remarked that it sounded like a good Vermont behavior modification remedy, that in the past being sent to the wood shed meant something totally different. Kids wouldn’t be able to sit down for a couple of days and the words “this will hurt me more it will you” seared into the offenders minds well into adulthood. Tough love often left scars and bruises, and traveled to school to be overlooked by teachers and nursing staff. Parents could pretty much dole out whatever punishment they felt suited the misdeed without criminal reprisal.

I remember witnessing corporal punishment in 1970 at an elementary school while I (as a junior in high school) was there as a student teaching art. The teacher had put dunce caps on the heads of two boys and had encouraged the class to berate the boys for being stupid during lessons. I had been on my way to pick up a first grade class when I noticed one of the boys, dunce cap on his head, sitting on a stool in front of the class. Slaps, ear pulling, poking, ruler rapping were the stock of the trade. The teacher looked harried and the class overeager to call the boy names.

My drafting teacher had the reputation for putting up with little mischief from his male students, legend had it that if they sassed him back or horsed around he’d grab them by their shirt collars and belt buckles and toss them out of his classroom into the lockers. He was retired Navy and the best teacher that I ever had throughout high school. Mr. Peckham didn’t offer a shoulder to cry on, he didn’t offer advise except he thought that I should consider engineering as a major in college, instead he taught me the value of the pure unbroken line, he taught me about fractions, angles, and decimal equivalents.

More importantly, Mr. Peckham taught me that I could stand equal amongst my fellow (male) students in his eyes and on the perfection of my work. I may have had an artist’s talent to visualize machine parts but that only got me so far, he helped me sharpen my mind, to plan ahead, to add up my tolerances. I respected Mr. Peckham and I guess you could say that I loved him as a surrogate father, as he did have his inner core of Peckham’s boys that could be relied on for their honesty and hard work, I felt honored to be included.

I check on Mr. Peckham’s health from year to year through a fellow “Peckham boy” Brian, owner of Lantman’s store in Hinesburg. Mr. Peckham had created a 5th echelon of drafting class for the two of us because we were lost without him, and he knew that we could go farther than any of his other students. When I failed to find an art teaching position I fell back on my drafting skills and worked as a draftsman for over ten years, starting with kitchen & bath drafting then marine, architectural, twist-drill/end-mill, line/process, machine, on up to 2nd level engineer in charge of CAD drafting for a defense contractor. 7/10ths of my drafting had been by hand; the oldest drawings that I ever had to modify were drawn in ink on onionskin from the early 1900s. I wished Mr. Peckham could have held one of those drawings up to the light, I think he would have marveled at the craftsmanship and steady hand.