My city editor put down the phone, pursed her lips and looked at me, a scrawny and green 20-year-old newspaper intern.
“That was the Klan,” she said. “They are pissed at you.”
That summer I was an intern at my hometown paper, the Southwest Times Record, a small daily in Fort Smith, Ark. Most of that summer I wrote hard-hitting pieces about mutant chicken trading societies, Chamber of Commerce luncheons and the hot weather.
But all summer long I also worked on a series of articles about how the local public schools were still as segregated as they were in 1954. Still as segregated as they were when I went through the system. And so segregated that the local NAACP was considering a lawsuit.
After my stories ran, the Klan called the newsroom to ask about the New York Jew-boy reporter sent down by the ACLU to stir up the black population. And to tell me that I should watch my back.
I was terrified. And then I was furious. Those people didn’t know me. I’d lived in that town since I was 5. I went to public elementary, junior high and high school there. I was a member of First Presbyterian Church. And I doubt the ACLU even knew my hometown existed.
This week I stumbled on the first woodworking chisel I ever bought. It’s a Popular Mechanics 1/2″ bevel-edge chisel I bought from Wal-Mart about four presidents ago. It was my only chisel for about eight years. But I took good care of it until I bought my first set of Marples.
I’ve forgotten how much I actually like that little chisel. Sure, the steel is as soft as the Pillsbury Dough Boy, and the handle is a lovely clear plastic. But that was the chisel I used to chop out my first dovetails. My first mortise. My first half-lap.
As I looked it over I noticed it was getting some rust on it. So I decided to bring it back to its former blue-light special glory. As I worked on the tool, my mind began to wander to the e-mail beatings I’ve been taking lately for some tool reviews I’ve written – reviews both positive and negative.
These whuppings come with the territory, but sometimes they do get to me. (Just like I’m sure my reviews occasionally annoy other people.)
As I honed the secondary bevel of the chisel this morning I held it up to the light and thought, “This is who I am.”
I’m taking this chisel home tonight to give to my youngest daughter, Katy. It’s not the best tool in the world, but it is a good place to start. And it does come with a lesson, one that I learned that summer day at the Southwest Times Record.
Despite my city editor’s warnings that day, I walked out the front door of the paper to my car every day that summer instead of ducking out the door by the pressroom.
— Christopher Schwarz