Michiko Kakutani's New York Times 3/20/12 review of John Gertner's book, The Idea Factory : Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, crossed my table last Saturday.  Would I actually read the book?  No, although it is "utterly comprehensible--indeed thrilling--to the lay reader".  Trouble is that I keep falling asleep in the limited hours available outside of work.  The review is a delightful, brief explanation of Bell Labs and the visionary leadership that promoted a culture of highest level creativity, innovation, and cross-disciplinary scientific research.  This paragraph caught my attention because of interest in early childhood education and nature awareness, crisscrossed with memories of my father.  Dad had the small town background of those Bell Lab scientists:

Many Bell Labs scientists, including Brattain, Kelly and the Nobel Prize-winning physicistCharles H. Townes, who helped develop the principles of the laser, grew up on farms or in small towns, which Dr. Townes argued were the perfect “training grounds for experimental physics.” Such childhoods, he contended, taught a person how to “pay attention to the natural world, to work with machinery and to know how to solve practical problems and fix things innovatively, with what is on hand.”

Dad was a supreme practitioner of the "fix with what is on hand" mentality.  Once he had rigged a slapdash repair he was oblivious to the aesthetic realities of his idea.  That is, when the man fixed the dang shower drip by stretching a heavy-duty rubber band he didn't care that his family had the ugly, mildewed rubber band in the bathtub for the next two decades.

During a recent windstorm my gate got blown out of its lock lever. I didn't want it to keep banging and twisting off its hinges, so I grabbed the nearest coat hanger.  My fix worked, but I don't want to look at it for very long. I'm a child of a child of the Great Depression, but I'd like a prettier solution long term.

I love stories of resourcefulness, and especially stories that include a pair of pliers in the back pocket of overalls. When I read Andy and the Lion to the preschoolers I worry that they are just too far removed from washing behind their ears out on the back porch to get it.  Then I worry that children won't get to hear this story because hunting lions, even in a tall tale, is not politically correct.  Plus, I worry that kids don't even get to walk to school on their own feeling like intrepid adventurers.  

Dad had few vices, but this vise and lots of C-clamps.  I'm trying to rig a way to hang our coat hanger wire sculptures from the top edge of a cafeteria stage backdrop so they blow in the nonexistent wind.  In the middle of the night I'm pondering how to do this with no money and no knowledge of the depth of that stage back wall prior to the performance day.  And no really big rubber-bands!

Bark is on my mind for good reason.  The school music festival is based on Leo Lionni's very 1968 parable, The Alphabet Tree about "the power of the written word in a democratic society":

The wordbug teaches the letters on the alphabet tree, torn and tossed by a windstorm, how to become stronger by banding together to form words. Then a clever purple caterpillar teaches the letters to become even stronger by forming sentences with a message of peace. 

The costumes for the kiddies are even tie-dye t-shirts!  Did the dyeing on the playground this afternoon.  Stirred the dye with a shovel handle for more problem-solving with material at hand.  Groovy.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

We have vises in our house, too. Um, and vices...

I love these coat hangers.


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