Building a ’55 Chevy

My dad and I worked on building a model today. It is a wooden model of a military cruiser that I bought him for Christmas. The pieces were stamped, most of the way punched out, on thin lightweight wood, maybe balsa.

Dad’s slow and steady decline with Alzheimer’s started about three years ago when Mom noticed he never knew the day of the week. Then Dad started getting up every morning and dressing for church thinking it was Sunday. It’s becoming more and more difficult to engage him in conversation or to find activities he is both able to do and might enjoy. I thought he would like to build the model with me.

The directions for this wooden model aren’t particularly helpful. They consist of a printed page of all the pieces with numbered interlocking slots and tabs. Starting with the number one, we have to connect each tab to the corresponding slot. There are over 150 numbers on scads of pieces ranging in size from large to quite small.

I labeled all the pieces with their numbers and helped Dad start punching them out of the four sheets of wood several weeks ago while we sat at the kitchen table. He finished this task with his home health aide Paula, who has been helping my parents out for several months now. The pieces are neatly organized into four zip-lock bags that correspond to the sheet of wood they came from.

Today we connected and glued the hull together.

I don’t think about the fact that Dad worked as a skilled tool and die maker, or model maker, in NCR’s Special Products division for years while I was young, or that he later owned his own shop where he employed roughly a dozen individuals at its peak.

“Do you see the piece with the number 34 on it?” I ask.

He sorts through the bag of pieces and pulls one out.

“Here is number 42,” he says.

“Good,” I say, “we’ll need that one soon.” I pick up the bag, find the piece we need with 34 on it and attach it to the model.

I try not to think about the fact that Dad used to be able to not only assemble something much more complicated than this simple wooden model; he could have designed the pieces and programmed a computer to cut them out with an automatic tool.

“How about piece number 35?” I say as I hold up the printed page showing the shapes and numbers of all the pieces. I point to the picture of the one I want. “It looks like this.”

Dad is not really on task and is still looking at the last piece with the number 42 on it. I find piece number 35.

“Look, we finished the entire hull today,” I say. “I think that’s good enough for one day.”

Dad doesn’t respond.

I stack the bags of pieces, the direction sheet and the constructed model and put them on a dresser in the back room. “We’ll work on this again next week when I come,” I say.

When we’re finished building this military cruiser, we’ll paint it.

And then we get to build the plastic model of the ’55 Chevy.


Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

One thought on “Building a ’55 Chevy”

  1. Yes, it is a sad story ~ but you do a great job of keeping Dad’s spirits “up” when you’re here for a visit ~ I can tell the subtle difference. Thank you for coming.


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