Carving

I’ve never been very good at carving. I remember several attempts at carving a block of soap when I was a kid. There was a simple set of instructions for carving a dog out of a block of soap in a book that we had. I tried it. It did not look like a dog. Then there were the huge differences between the sleek race car of my imagination and the awkward asymmetrical result of my attempts to make a pinewood derby racer. One of the first jobs I did with my pocket knife when I received it from my father was to sharpen willow sticks for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows on the fire. I was fairly competent at that task. But I couldn’t carve anything to look like what I imagined.

My Uncle Ted was very skilled at sharpening knives. He used to sharpen knives, chisels, scissors, and other tools as he sat behind the parts counter in my dad’s shop between customers. Everyone knew that Uncle Ted could take a piece of steel and make it cut well. Folks brought their tools to him for a keen edge. The display board of pocket knives in the store was an effective sales tool. More effective was the old parts guy sitting next to it putting a razor’s edge on the knives. We sold a lot of knives in those days. But I didn’t learn to carve.

Although I couldn’t carve anything meaningful when it came to 3-dimensional sculpture, I did learn to carve a chicken or a turkey. One year, when we lived in Chicago, we made a big turkey dinner for a few students who lived too far away from home to go home for Thanksgiving. One of our guests was a man whose father operated a restaurant. He really knew how to carve poultry. He taught me how to debone and carve a turkey into neat slices. I practiced whenever we served a turkey. We served quite a few turkey dinners when we managed the church camp and I got pretty good at it. There was no sense of creating art, but I did know how to avoid wasting good food.

About the same time, when we were managing the church camp, I started getting creative with cutting up watermelon. Instead of a straight line, making the first cut a series of zig zags resulted in a pretty division of the melon. I’d pre-score a couple of melons and then make it look like I could break them in half into beautiful creations. Add a bit of storytelling and a touch of drama and as they say, the meal is 90% presentation.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of fun carving melons. I don’t know when I began, but about once a year or so, I find a small watermelon that is just right to carve a basket. I take the melon out with a spoon or melon baller and make a fruit salad to go in the carved “basket.” It makes a nice centerpiece for a summer dinner. I always get a few compliments when I do it.

Yesterday seemed to be the right day for such an adventure. There are blackberries, huckleberries and strawberries ripe and ready for picking within a few feet of where we have our camper parked. Peaches are ripe on the tree and in the fruit stands in town. We had a few fresh pears to add to the mix. We picked up a suitable watermelon from the store and stopped on our way home to purchase sweet corn out of the back of a pickup, fresh from the fields. And we had fresh salmon in our refrigerator. There are some advantages to being so close to the coast. Seafood can be purchased fresh at the market the same day the boat is unloaded just 25 miles away. No trip on the airline. No need for the freezer. We had all of the makings for a feast and we enjoyed our dinner with relish.

The nine year old focused on the corn. He ate two large ears of corn with butter dripping from them. They were sweet and juicy and he said it was his favorite part of the meal. The six year old launched into the baked salmon declaring, “I love meat!” She often has to be persuaded to consume protein at her meals. “Just two bites, please!” Last night she didn’t need any encouragement. She ate an adult-sized portion and asked for more. The three year old ate fruit salad until her mother finally said, “That’s enough fruit for you for tonight.”

Grandpa was beaming because the grandchildren were enjoying the dinner. Mom was happy because she didn’t have to cook that night and could get some other chores completed. The family was well fed and happy and by the time the dishes were done it was nearly time for brushing teeth and reading stories.

Reading stories is another part of family life that I really enjoy. I’ve read several children’s stories so many times that I have them memorized. Our grandchildren are young enough that they think their grandfather does a pretty good voice for Grover in “The Monster at the End of This Book.” Even the nine year old pauses in his own reading to listen when I read. I’ve read “Fred and Ted go Camping” enough to read it even when small hands are covering the words on the page.

Among the possessions I have packed to prepare for our move are a set of precision carving knives that once belonged to my Uncle Ted. They are sharp. He taught me well how to keep my tools sharp. As I packed them I thought that I don’t remember anything that he ever carved, even though he had a good set of sharp knives. I’ve had them for more than 40 years and I haven’t carved anything much, either. And I still haven’t turned a bar of soap into a dog. But give me a watermelon and some time with my grandkids and I’ll carve a memory that will last a lifetime.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!