Most of us have had to follow directions to do or make something at some point in our life. Whether it was making a cake, or learning how to play a new game, the possibilities are endless of the directions that we have followed over our lifetime. Sometimes the directions are even right! Sometimes they are right even if they are confusing. Sometimes they are right even if we don’t know what to do with the end result.
I remember my mom trying to teach me as a young teenager how to cook. I told her I could never remember all the details for all the ingredients that went into a dish, and she told me to write them down. The fact of the matter was I wasn’t interested in learning how to cook. I mean I had a mother who was an excellent cook, why would I want to eat my cooking when I could eat hers?
So were the thoughts of a 13-14 year old boy. When she began to counsel me that one day I might need to know how to cook when I was older, my quick reply was, “Why? When I am older I’ll get married and will make sure that the woman I marry knows how to cook.” Now before all of you dear lady readers get miffed, please keep reading. My mom taught my two older brothers and one younger brother how to cook. Yours truly listened to her instructions but never applied them.
As I had foretold, when I finally reached the age of marrying, one of my questions to the young ladies I was dating was whether they could cook or not. Most said yes, though one or two said no. When I married, my wife indeed was an excellent cook and even learned some of my mother’s recipes for various dishes. All was well.
After 28 years of marriage, my wife developed cancer and passed away. My eldest daughter was married, with the middle one getting married about a month after her mother’s funeral. This left me home with my 7 year old daughter, neither of which, she nor I, could cook. Payback was cruel for my hard headedness to not learn to cook from my mother. Needless to say we ate out a lot. But together we began to go through some of my wife’s recipes and gradually began to learn how to cook a few dishes.
Am I any better at cooking now? Only my family knows for sure. I will say that I know how to grill just about anything for a cookout. And I can make a really good meal of pork-an-beans and rice. Now I doctor up the pork-an-beans with fried hamburger meat, BBQ sauce and a few other spices and even my daughters say that it is good! That’s enough on my cooking prowess for now.
Following directions is what we are trying to get to in this column. I did learn woodworking from my father, though there were not too many verbal lessons from him on that subject. I learned from watching and observing what he did and remembering it for use in later years. That process worked well for me. I guess, primarily because I had an interest in watching how my dad took various pieces of lumber and turned them into a useful piece of furniture.
Oh and I learned one other little tidbit about working with the raw material to make furniture. Never refer to it as wood, as that was what one burned in a fireplace or an old wood burning stove. The correct terminology to use for the raw material with which to make furniture is always “lumber”, not wood.
Through the years I learned how to follow directions for many various and different things. I have felt in these recent years that I have indeed become quite adept at following directions. Maybe too much so, if that is possible.
Once in Ecuador while living on the coast in Guayaquil, I took a trip to the capitol city of Quito up in the Andes Mountains. I was not very familiar with Quito, but I knew that the Pan American Highway was up on the side of the mountain to the west of the city. However I was unsure how to get to the Pan American, from the heart of old colonial Quito.
I saw an Indian lady on the sidewalk near where I was driving so I pulled up beside her and asked if she could give me directions to get to the Pan American Highway. She smiled and was more than happy to give me the directions. I began following what she had told me and before long I could see that indeed I was approaching the highway. As I turned onto the last street that she had told me would take me to the Pan American, I began to realize that there was a small detail she had failed to mention.
This last street began to narrow as it approached the Highway. By the time I reached the end of the street there was just 30 feet to the Pan American. The problem was the street had narrowed down like a slice of pizza, so that at its end there was only enough room for someone on foot to walk between the buildings on either side of the street. No way was I going to be able to drive my Blazer through that small opening. That was the last time I asked a pedestrian for instructions on how to drive somewhere in Ecuador.
Not long ago my wife asked me to cut a piece of lumber I had for her to make a decorative piece to hang on the wall. She said she had written the instructions down on a piece of paper and placed it on the piece in my shop. I went out to my shop and sure enough I found it just as she had told me.
The directions were written on a yellow sticky pad note paper about 2 and a half inches square. The piece of lumber was a used distressed piece about 20 inches long by 11 inches wide with a 6 inch round hole cut for an old stove pipe in the middle of it. Her directions were written with an arrow which had pointers on both ends drawn up the left side of the paper from top to bottom, and three short lines of instructions. The lines read: “Cut to equal,” “long piece & hole” and “smaller piece 6” X 11.” Each of these was on a separate line.
Having been married to my wife a little over 4 years now, I have begun to sometimes understand her directions or instructions as she has given them. I felt I had this one figured out but I had to go ask her to make sure that I was hearing what she was saying. I was. She wanted me to cut one end of the board off beside the 6 inch hole to equal what would be left on the other end of the board along with the hole. The smaller piece would be 6” X 11”.
I was proud of myself. I figured it out. I can follow directions even when they are not the least bit clear. But don’t tell my wife I said that. Oh wait; she will see this in the paper. Uh, can anyone give me directions to a good place to hide out for a few days? Oh, yes, she is a good cook.
Brad Morris, a retired minister, originally from Georgetown, served as a pastor and then as a missionary in Costa Rica and Ecuador, can be reached at email@example.com. He has been in ministry for 50 years and a columnist for 17 years, 13 of which have been for the Times.