Just the Other Day: The Carpenter’s Tablet

Writing is usually easy for me when I know what I’m going to write about and today I knew what I wanted to write. But sometimes other thoughts race through my mind, distracting me from the subject at hand.  Today is the 29th anniversary of my father’s passing and he has been on my mind all day.


One thing was certain about my dad: when he said something, he meant it. His conviction and sincerity were unquestionable, although at times I challenged his logic or the basis of his statement. For example, pinching.


When I got into a spat, or even just playing with any of my siblings, if anyone pinched another person my dad would jump right in, “Don’t pinch! It can cause cancer.” Cancer? Really? I don’t think that was true, but dad said it, so it must have been. Another cause of cancer was the hickey.


The hickey, being a mark left on one’s neck from making out with a boyfriend or girlfriend, was a pretty common thing in the sixties and seventies. Dad did not like them at all. “It looks trashy and they can cause cancer.” He declared. I agreed with dad. They were not very attractive, but causing cancer? Later in life, I concluded hickeys may have led to a lot of unexpected babies, but I doubt anyone ever got cancer from one.


I suppose I was around eleven or twelve years old, when a cute girl at school was going to give me her phone number. I didn’t have anything to write on, so I let her write it on my arm. She drew some flowers, birds, stars and a rainbow with hearts. When I got home, dad saw the artwork. “Don’t ever write on your skin with ink. What were you thinking? That can work into your blood and you could get ink poisoning, which can cause cancer.” I suppose it could happen, although I never met anyone who suffered from ink poisoning.


I later learned a practical reason for not writing on your hand or arm: ink from a pen easily wears off and you could lose your note.


Once in high school, a girl was giving me her phone number, but I didn’t have anything to write on. We were going to go cruising around town that night in my 1974 Chevy Nova. I didn’t want to write her number on my hand, for fear it would wear off, so I dug in my pocket and pulled out the only three dollars I had to my name. She wrote her name, first and last, along with her address and phone number on one of the bills. I told her I would call her later and tucked the bill securely in my pocket.


After school, I put a few gallons of gas in my car, which cost a little under a dollar per gallon. It wasn’t until I got home and went to call her, that it occurred to me, I gave the bill on which she wrote her information to the guy at the gas station.


Thinking I stood her up, she didn’t want to talk to me the next day at school. When I explained what happened, she became furious! “You gave my name, number and address to a stranger at the gas station? You might as well have written it on the bathroom wall. Every boy in town is going to be calling me!” I guess I never thought about that. As life went on, I learned not to write on my hand, nor on money.


Dad always carried a wad of small papers – napkins, envelopes, receipts and such, folded and neatly tucked into his top shirt pocket or the pocket inside his suit coat. This is where he kept his notes. He would frequently pull out his papers and a ballpoint pen to add another note. I tried his method, but when the wad got too thick or cumbersome, I would throw it away – important notes and all.


One time a man was doing some work for my dad and needed to get some things from the lumber yard. He picked up a short scrap from a 2X4 board and wrote on it. When I asked why he was writing on a board, he explained, “It’s a carpenter’s tablet.”


“What’s that?” I queried, never having heard the term.


“A carpenter’s tablet is anything you can find to write on so you don’t forget what you went to the store for.” He said, laughing. I remembered his words.


When I started doing my own projects, I used a lot of different things to make a list or take notes; a piece of word, a scrap of sheetrock, a section of paper torn from a bag of mortar mix; anything handy to write on made a good carpenter’s tablet. Finding something to write a note upon goes far beyond just projects.


Around the house, I’ve written notes on envelopes which bills came in, empty cereal boxes, old receipts; anything close and available is fair game when you need to make a note. Just don’t write on your hand or on money.


The other day while I was driving, a lady from the doctor’s office called to give me the date and time for my upcoming appointment. I scrambled, looking for something to write on. Everything I picked up was important and couldn’t be used for notes. Finally, I found something but didn’t have a pen handy. I grabbed a Sharpie marker from my cup holder, clinched the cap in my teeth and pulled the marker loose.  I wrote as she spoke. “Your appointment is with Doctor C. on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at 11:30 a.m.”


“Okay, I have it written down.” I said, “I’ll see you then.”  I was pretty proud of myself for finding something to write on so quickly and taking down this important information.


I left the note on the dashboard of the van where I originally found the “notepad,” that way I would see it regularly and not forget to transfer the information into my schedule book. This morning I did just that. Then, I set the grapefruit upon which my note was written, back on the dashboard in the van. Hey, anything close and available is fair game when you need to write a note.  “I think I’ll eat that grapefruit after lunch today.” I said.



I smiled warmly as I could almost hear my dad saying, “Don’t write on your grapefruit. That ink could soak in through the rind and you could get ink poisoning and that can cause cancer.”


I was still smiling, while looking at the ridiculous note on the side of the pinkish-orange citrus fruit. A tear welled up in my eye. “At least I didn’t write it on my hand, Dad.”