An Eye Opener

The most experienced machinist in the shop, they said. He looked the veteran, too.

Columns From: 1/1/1998 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Mark Albert

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

The most experienced machinist in the shop, they said. He looked the veteran, too. White-haired, slightly stooped. Learned his trade in the old country, and had an accent that cut speech into short sharp words the way a good chipbreaker on a lathe tool cuts metal into tight blue curls.

He picked up a workpiece from a bin beside his machine, and held it up for examination. Pulling his head back a bit, he squinted once or twice, then walked over to the window and lifted his shop glasses, holding the part almost to his nose.

"Ja, dot's a good finish," he proudly pronounced, looking straight at me. "You haf the young eyes. See for yourself," he said, offering the workpiece to me for inspection.

This scene from one of my first shop visits—I was going after a feature article, I believe—is one I haven't forgotten. At the time (beginning of the previous decade actually), I couldn't tell much about workpiece finishes. But that lack of insight on my part isn't why my memory of this persists.

"Young eyes." I hadn't heard that expression since childhood. My grandmother used to say that. "I need your young eyes," she'd say, asking me to help find a needle dropped on the dark carpet in her sewing room.

Now I find myself repeating the old machinist's routine when I really need to see something close. When I'm proof-reading fine print, my glasses go up on my forehead. Well, not all the time, but more and more it's most of the time. For over a year, I've had an unfilled prescription for bifocals sitting in my dresser drawer. The ophthalmologist said they are optional in my case, at least for the time being.

But time being what it is, I know that this prescription won't go to waste.

And that's okay. I can tell that my vision is getting clearer as I get older. Mental vision, that is. Understanding.

That old machinist, for example. Today I can imagine how he still saw in himself the youth who once relished vigorous countryside hikes in crisp Alpine air, and that all of his life's experiences were summed up in his being. Before I had seen only a man whose eyes weren't what they used to be.

There are a lot of things I always thought I understood but realize now I have but an inkling of the truth about. And I now know that there are many things I didn't even know I need to understand. There is wisdom to be gotten.

It's exciting, being here on the edge of maturity. 

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