Crafts, Education, Friendship, Military

Making Connections

“Beware the enlisted man. He is stupid, but crafty.” Those words were first spoken to me by Bernie, my teacher, mentor, and friend.

I met Bernie in 1972 when he was a teaching assistant, and I was a college freshman. My composition teacher had suffered a heart attack, was out for the rest of the semester, and Bernie was pressed into service as the instructor for our Honors English course. He was impressive to our eyes even then. Huge. Bearded. Wise. Always a bit disheveled. Always wearing the same suit, but always with a different tie. I’ve never known a man with so many ties. I’m not sure they ever repeated. And yet, when Bernie passed away in 2012, and Mr. She and I paid our respects at the funeral home, Mr. She and Bernie were wearing identical ties for the day (the “Chaucer” tie), and one of Mr. She’s proudest possessions today is one of Bernie’s ties. Bernie was a dear friend, and a kindred spirit. I miss him.

Bernie was, in every sense of the word, a Renaissance man. There was no area of life, no realm of knowledge, no part of existence in which he was not interested, and which he did not pursue. He was a voracious reader: Facts and information stuck to him like glue, and were likely to be dredged up, given the “Bernie” spin, and delivered at exactly the right moment to shed enlightenment on the topic at hand. There was nothing he did not know something about, there wasn’t anything about which he could not weigh in with authority and vigor and humanity. One ignored Bernie’s advice at one’s peril, whether it had to do with the best way to route a picture frame, the most efficient method of digging a hole, the quadratic formula explained, or how the postmodernists always get it wrong. He knew almost everything about almost everything. I miss him.

In a previous life, Bernie served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. And his own “Tales of the South Pacific” entertained us for decades. It’s from Bernie that I garnered the impression that every bar in the South Pacific is pretty much the equivalent of the Star Wars Cantina–and from my experience in what is probably the closest I’ll ever get to a “bar in the South Pacific,” I think I’m not far wrong.

Perhaps it was during his time in the Navy that Bernie honed what had become, by the time I met him, such acute observational skills that he could size a person up in about thirty seconds flat. (Another thing you ignored at your peril was Bernie’s pithy summation of those he’d just met. He never made a mistake.) And I dare say that it was his experiences as a young naval officer that reminded him often of the bon mot at the top of this post.

“Oh, surely not,” I said the first time I heard it. “Yes, yes,” he said. “I can’t remember the exact quote, but something like that is in an old Army training manual.”

As usual, Bernie was right. Or at least, there is so much Apocrypha to support his contention that he may as well have been.

The actual “quote” that is often attributed to the 1894 Army Officer’s Training Manual is “Enlisted men are stupid, but extremely cunning and sly, and bear considerable watching.” It is also attributed to several other years’ manuals, to at least one Navy training manual, it’s been attributed to George Washington, and according to Snopes (!) has been referenced as late as 1978 in Defense Department appropriations bills.

I’ve always lumped the thought in the same bin as “crazy like a fox” and similar sayings and found it useful in sizing up a few people I’ve met myself, but I’ve always liked Bernie’s formulation best. “Stupid, but crafty.”

Which brings me to the point of my post: Beading.

You see, I think I’m pretty crafty myself. YMMV on the other half of it, and I don’t mind which side you come down on, it’s not important here. I was thinking of showing you how to shear a sheep, wash and spin the wool, and then knit it into a king-size bedspread, but I decided that 1) even sheep are smart enough not to appreciate being left naked when the temperature is -8F, 2)the rest of it would take far too long and I wouldn’t be ready to write this post till 2021 at the earliest, and 3) most of those activities would work best with video examples and don’t have the time or the inclination right now to tape, edit and upload all that stuff. So, just take my word for it all, please. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. It would have been a beautiful bedspread, though.

It’s just that so many of my favorite crafts are what Mr. She somewhat disparagingly refers to as “fiddly things.” The spinning. The knitting. Bobbin lace. Needlepoint. Crewel. Projects that take weeks, months, and sometimes years to complete. But as I get older, and as I appreciate more and more the sage words of Maggie “at my age I don’t even buy green bananas” Smith, I also find pleasure in small projects that I can complete in a day or two. And thus, beading, a craft to which I was introduced by my sister.

I’m a rank beginner. And I don’t know much about it. I usually buy kits that come with everything I need for the project. I’ve been patronizing Fusion Beads, which has regular sales, nice products, complete kits, and clear instructions. I’ve also (for the hair thingys) enjoyed the YouTube tutorials by Aleshia. I’m finding it satisfying and fun, and the projects are small enough to complete very quickly (a few hours or a couple of days).

My most recent project was a Fusion Beads kit for a pair of earrings. These earrings:

The photos below show the steps taken to make one of these earrings.

First, the “beadboard” and the contents of the kit (all except for the pliers, which I had). A bead board is an essential piece of equipment, on which one lays out one’s beads and supplies for easy access. The napped fabric holds the beads so they don’t slide around, and makes it easy to pick them up with the end of the needle. A good beadboard can be expensive, so I followed my sister’s advice, and bought a cheap picture-frame, then put a scrap of velvet inside, taped to a piece of cardboard. “Assuming you have a scrap of velvet,” she said. Of course I do. This particular scrap of velvet is left over from my stuffed animal crafty phase, about twenty-five years ago, and the rest of it went, IIRC (which I am pretty sure I do), into a rather spectacular pair of scarlet pantaloons for a large teddy bear:

These earrings are done using a technique called “weaving” in which a long thread, and a long, very flexible needle” are used to connect (thus does She desperately try to relate where she’s ended up with the title of her post!) beads and weave and attach them into the desired design. Here’s how you do it:

Wallah! As they say around here.

And here, a bracelet I made, also from a Fusion Beads kit, a couple of months ago:

And some hair things:

This lovely Swarovski crystal bracelet was made by my sister, who’s a world-class beader:

And in close-up:

So. There it is. I hope those of you who are still with me haven’t been driven round the bend by my inability to stick to the point, and that perhaps a few of you (most likely on the female side, but you never know–all you guys with man buns might want to add a bit of bling to your “do”), will consider giving beading a try when you’re at a loose end (pun) and have a few hours to spare. Whatever your chosen pursuit in your free time, have fun!

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