Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Father Made Models

Back during April's 30 Days of Blogging, I received a topic that I never got around to using:

Share a memory about one of your parents

I didn't deliberately avoid the topic. It just happened to be the end of the month and I hadn't used it yet, so I thought, "I'll save that for Mother's Day or Father's Day." I thought about writing about my mom back on Mother's Day, but my mom gets a lot of attention here since we share recipes and go shopping when I visit home, so I decided to save the topic and give my dad a spotlight entry, because he's awesome and he loves me and I love him, too.

When I was little, my father spent hours making plastic military models.

This was a fascinating process to watch, which you were allowed to do if you were quiet and didn't touch things. Dad would take a box of plastic mold racks, slowly snap pieces off of them, use a dremel tool to file off the places where the model piece and the rack had joined, and then, depending on the model, glue and then paint or paint and then glue. Sometimes there was also an extra step with the dremel tool where he might use it to give a plastic wall texture, or to drill some tiny bullet holes in something, or maybe to give something a slightly mangled edge. He also sometimes singed the edges of things with a match after painting, like papers on a table or posters on walls, or sometimes the walls themselves.

There were walls because he often made dioramas around the models, using a picture frame laid flat as the base, painting the glass sheet as brick or mud or water, adding green or brown dust from hobby stores while the paint was wet to give it texture, burning and sanding and texturing premade plastic brick wall sections for troops to peek around or hide behind. Like I said, these were fascinating, intricate models.

The painting was also important, and something I have never been able to master. My dad has extremely steady hands, and could use brushes that were apparently only one or two hairs to paint eye whites and then irises on tiny soldiers who were only an inch tall. Military medals the size of pinheads were painted on chests with historically accurate colors. History books from the post library (no internet or wikipedia when I was little) were consulted to see if Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, was a blond or a brunette, and he was painted accordingly.

Sometimes these models were given to my brother, who enjoyed military things. They were rarely given to me, as I didn't care for them, but once a specific model was made for me: a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. It was ten inches long, and the wheels turned if you rolled it along the floor or a tabletop. The hood opened to reveal a detailed engine, the trunk opened, and the doors opened to show textured leather seats. The same care spent on tanks, jets, and soldiers was spent on my Rolls, with a license plate number that matched our car at the time and tiny painted dials and guages on the dashboard. The Silver Ghost didn't survive my childhood, as I played with it often and plastic models held together with airplane glue are not built to the same standards as Matchbox cars and Tonka trucks. Over the course of a year or two the Rolls slowly disintegrated, losing an antenna or a door or a running board, and eventually was no more, but for years afterward I saved one of the wheels.

None of the models survived my childhood, actually. We moved a few times, and movers tend not to be gentle people. Despite hours or work, my father treated them as completely disposable, and once broken they were usually thrown away rather than repaired. Eventually he stopped making models as a hobby, although I'm not sure why. After we moved from Alaska to upstate New York (real upstate, by Canada, not New York City media upstate where everything above the five boroughs is "upstate" because it's above them) he just moved on to other things, and didn't make models anymore, with one exception, notable because it may also be the only surviving model my Dad made:

Before I went away to college, I spent $20 on a set that would make the Enterprise 1701, 1701-A, and 1701-D, all in scale to each other and sitting on a little display stand. My Dad put these models together, applying decals, painting warp nacelles and deflector dishes according to my specifications, and I kept them on my desk for all four years of college. Each time I had to pack my dorm room each ship was taken off the stand, wrapped in several layers of paper towels, and all three were packed together in a sturdy shoe box. They remain in that shoe box today, somewhere in my parents' attic, and that's why I'm not sure if they have surived or not. My parents' attic is neither heated nor air-conditioned, so those models have been subjected to over a decade of bitter cold and blistering heat, and I have no idea if those are conditions that model glue can withstand.

So, it's possible that somewhere in my parents' attic I have a shoebox full of Enterprise fragments, or I have the only models my father made that survived my childhood. Next time I go home, I may want to find out, but the odds are slim since I'm going in December and trips to the attic are weather-dependent.

In the meantime, Happy Father's Day to my dad, who made models.


Justin Bower said...

Fantastic post. I think we were thinking along similar lines today. Ask him about the models. Not just there where, but the why. My father collected matchbooks on his business trips. We have boxes full of them in storage. I never asked him why, or about the places. I wish I had.

Jeannie said...

Oh, this is adorable. I love this little snapshot into the life of baby Joel and his dad. :)

Ben Sharbel said...

Please go into your parents attic, find one, and photograph it. While your descriptions have painted a picture in my mind, I would still like to see one. -Elizabeth (signed in as Ben)