I have been very excited the last couple of days because of my find at our church rummage sale. I got bargain prices on two beat up, but very sturdy adirondack chairs, just what I had been wanting for my patio. Cleaning up, repairing, sanding, and staining the chairs became my Saturday project.

My evil Tom Sawyer plot worked perfectly! I chose to do one chair completely before doing the other. Blaise was curious about the chairs and thought it looked “fun” to do the staining. Half the work for me, right? (Not really since only staining is fun, not cleaning up.)

I was turning the chair upside down and showing him how to sand and where to start with his brush. He asked why it mattered to do the back and underside since no one would be seeing that. I say “asked” but the implication and tone were a bit more like, “I can’t believe you’re so dumb as to waste your time on that. Adults are idiots.”

That’s when I got nailed by the 4-H flashback! Oh, the projects we had to do every year to satisfy an antiquated notion of the domestic arts and the idylls of the rural life. I actually learned a lot in 4-H, including things like parliamentary procedure and how to pull an all-nighter to complete a really ugly latched hook rug. But I digress. I suppose for many families Mom teaching Daughter to sew and Dad teaching Son how to compete in livestock judging is worthwhile. I know it is. Not in our family. We weren’t good project people. We’d have great ideas six months in advance and then somehow my mom and I were always up all night before the county fair finishing the baking, sewing, and other projects but I’m not sure either one of us really cared that much. It was just something we were supposed to do.

In the spirit of this is what we’re supposed to do, my mom decided it was time to teach me to sew in preparation for the upcoming county fair. I was probably 12. My mom and my grandmother are fabulous seamstresses and absolute wizards on sewing machines. I hated every second of it. We started with placemats. All I had to do was cut out ovals of this red handkerchief print quilting and then use the sewing machine to sew a red band of stretchy polyester trim around the edges and voila! Placemats! I constantly snagged the needle in the polyester trim, and my mom was as patient as she could be. Patient and quiet are not who we are, though, so mostly it was a lot of fighting. (She will tell you the same. We still tell stories about “that time we made placemats.”) God bless my grandma for using those placemats for years.

You may be wondering at this point, reader, what the heck this has to do with staining patio furniture. Here it is: I actually said to my mother, wizard seamstress, “Why does it matter if the stitching on the back is wrong? Nobody looks at that part anyway.” I remember thinking that she was just trying to annoy me and be perfectionistic. She pointed out that the work should be done well inside and out, regardless of which part people will see. True quality and the appearance of quality are not at all the same thing. I’ll be damned if that wasn’t a life lesson.

Oh, except for the part about how I didn’t get it AT ALL until 30 years later when my own kid says it to me. And what do I say about staining the chair? We stain all of it; we do a good job on all of it; we’re caring for and protecting the wood from all of the elements so we need to be thorough. He didn’t get it either. I figure he’s got about 30 years to let it sink in.

Isn’t it amazing how all the things we tried hard NOT to learn from our parents still managed to seep through and stick to us anyway?

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