Many, many years ago — so long ago I don't know when, so far back I don't know who — someone gave me a large block of balsa wood. Up until then, I'd never seen a piece thicker than 1/8 inch. This one was enormous by comparison: 6 inches to a side! I wanted to make something out of it, but not just any old thing. I felt like I needed to save that piece for something special. I didn't know what, but . . . something.
It mocked me for my indecision until, finally, I stuck a sign on it that read "POTENTIAL." It was a fixture on my desk all through college, reminding me to make something of the time I was given.
I finally made something out of it.
But first, I need to tell you about boot monsters. Boot monsters are a figment (and, as often as not, pigment) of Fiona's imagination. They are among the many marvelous beasts that make their way out onto paper when I'm not watching, and show up on my desk, marked "TO DADY FROM ?" (I've never had to guess who they came from.) They are great, gentle creatures who crunch up trash and sticks in the yard (they make great pets if you have a yard to mow) and used to be hunted for the warm, sturdy footwear that grew naturally on each of their four large paws. Fiona would ask me for tales of the great boot monsters of old, Paul Bunyan-sized creatures enlisted to build highways simply by shuffling their great feet along, two to four lanes at a time. Marvelous creatures.
So it wasn't surprising that, when I sat down to ask Fiona what she wanted for her pinewood derby car, her answer was swift and sure: A BOOT MONSTER!
A certain amount of negotiation followed.
Boot monster fur fades from purple and green down to brown furry boots. I didn't think I could pull that off. Fiona considered this, and returned with a request for a boot monster big rig, complete with trailers and stripes, and fades from purple to green and . . . it was a very detailed specification!
I OK'd the big rig part, but pointed out that the trailer would certainly put it over weight and over length. So we settled on a boot monster bobtail, and got to work on a design.
. . . and that's about where I blew it. We made the pinewood base of the truck, redrilled the axle slots to accommodate a design with three sets of axles, rather than two, and . . . stopped. We'd made great plans and I totally dropped the ball. Busyness reigned, despite Fiona's regular reminders. I felt terrible about it. (Still do.)
A month before the race, we picked it up again. And I reached up to the shelf and got down a certain balsa block — one I'd been saving for a special occasion.
Balsa is light, and cuts very easily. It also dents, splits, and cracks just as easily, and absorbs paint like a sponge. It didn't occur to me until recently that I'd always used balsa for internal structure — never as an exterior surface. On the other hand, Fiona loved sanding it, because it felt "furry."
Fiona and I were pretty happy with it. We were all set to race. And then they made the announcement . . .