Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Why I never took another shop class after 8th grade: A true story

I went to school a long time ago. Even though this photo was taken in 1902, this is roughly what our mechanical drawing classroom looked like...minus the giant deer head.

The obvious answer to the headline is because I'm one of the least handy people you will ever meet. I can fix computers, but almost nothing mechanical. I can perform basic car maintenance, but anything electrical or plumbing-related baffles me. I don't even paint well.

But there's another reason why I never took what we referred to as "industrial arts" classes beyond 8th grade, and it involves one of the most interesting characters of my middle school years, Mr. Lowell Grimm.

Mr. Grimm was my shop teacher, my football and basketball coach, and a 50s music aficionado (I assume he's still into the 50s music. I haven't talked to him in a while.) He was intense, though as I understand it, by the time I had him in the early to mid-1980s, he was a less-intense version of what he had been when my brother had him as a teacher in the very early 70s.

I did see him break at least two clipboards over Ron Vargo's head, though. Ron was, thankfully, wearing a football helmet each time, but still.

He yelled at us quite a bit, but that was fine because a lot of teachers and coaches yelled at us then. You were just kind of used to it.

I also think he liked me, though he could never figure me out. In football, for example, I was a running back who ran much more effectively to the left side of the line than the right. He noticed this and one time said to me, "Tennant, you're an enigma."

He often called me "Lou," since I would wear my dad's "Lou's Tire Mart" softball shirt over my shoulder pads at football practice.

Anyway, we had to produce a relatively complex mechanical drawing as our end-of-year final exam in Mr. Grimm's 8th-grade industrial arts class. I was not a good draftsman, nor would I ever be. But I gave it a shot.

I took the finished drawing up to Mr. Grimm's desk and handed it to him. It was, at best, maybe C-level work.

Mr. Grimm looked at the drawing, then he looked up at me.

He looked back at the drawing, then he looked at me again.

"Tennant," he said, "I'll tell you what. If I give you an 'A' on this, do you promise never to take another industrial arts class again in your life?"

I didn't plan on any taking any more shop classes anyway, and I knew I didn't deserve an "A" on the drawing, so I jumped on this deal immediately.

We both kept our ends of the bargain. Mr. Grimm gave me that "A," and I never set foot in another shop class again, assuming you don't count Mr. Lewis' electronics class the following year in 9th grade (which I don't).

Mr. Grimm, incidentally, was shot during the terrible Wickliffe Middle School shooting of 1994. He was trying to save kids at the time, of course, because for all of his intensity, he really did care about us.

I interviewed him some years later for the Wickliffe Schools Alumni Association newsletter, and he talked about the shooting, how he survived it, and his recovery. Not surprisingly, he said going through something like that tends to mellow you out, both as a teacher and as a person.

But I think he was a big softie at heart all along, and I have the "A" on my final 1983-84 report card to prove it.

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