The T-Square and the Pencil

drafting supplies

My oldest started eighth grade last month. (My youngest started K-3, but that’s a different story…) These middle-school years are so full of change (and drama). But it’s exciting to witness this transition from childhood to young adulthood, like watching a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. As she begins to spread her wings, I’m wondering which direction she’ll take.

My middle school took seriously its responsibility to help shape our young minds and make us start thinking about the future. Seventh grade girls and boys alike were required to take home ec (unless you were in band or chorus). We made a stuffed rabbit (out of a sock) and an apron. Hand-sewing was fine, but the sewing machine and I weren’t on very friendly terms. Then we put the apron to use in the kitchen, but I didn’t fare too well there either. I only mastered one recipe — French Breakfast Puffs. (It sounds fancy…but the primary ingredient is Bisquick.)

Our big project in home ec was the Egg Baby. Despite its little basket full of fluffy bedding, I broke it the first day I brought it home from school! (Which left me convinced I’d be a terrible mother.) Needless to say, I was so glad when that class came to an end!

Eighth grade brought a new challenge — industrial arts — once again, for boys and girls alike. My parents weren’t too thrilled about the prospect of me using power tools at school, and I was a bit unnerved as well, given that I wasn’t even comfortable using a sewing machine. Thankfully, the class began with an introduction to drafting before we were turned loose in the wood-working shop. I still felt slightly intimidated, perched on a stool at one of the big, slanted drafting tables. But as soon as I taped down a sheet of blank paper and began to draw, I felt like a new world was opening up before me.

And it was.

Drafting was like a harmonious blend of math and art, and I was fascinated. Here was something that sparked my imagination, and the possibilities seemed endless and exciting.

My daddy, who had worked in construction for many years, noticed my interest. He surprised me one day with a T-square and a mechanical pencil, all the more special because he had been out of work for a while, and I knew money was tight. He also gave me his old drafting supplies — triangles, French curves, an architectural scale, and a compass set. I was thrilled!

My teacher was like no teacher I’d ever had before, but he certainly looked the part of an industrial arts instructor — he always wore jeans and had bushy eyebrows, a scruffy mustache, and a gruff voice. I’ll never forget what he said when he called me to his desk one day. He told me in no uncertain terms that I should pursue a career in drafting or engineering.

I wasn’t exactly sure what engineering was or if it was something a girl could do, but I wanted to find out. Without my daddy’s support and my teacher’s encouragement, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to explore that option. And the course of my life would have been completely different.

Nine years later, I graduated from Auburn with a degree in civil engineering. And I still use my daddy’s gift –the mechanical pencil — almost every day.

I finally learned to cook, too…while working at Auburn in the asphalt lab — of all places! — measuring precise amounts of hot liquid asphalt and different sizes of rocks and mixing them in the industrial equivalent of a KitchenAid mixer. And despite the Egg Baby experience — or maybe because of it — I’m actually not a terrible mother after all.

I’m so thankful that God clearly showed me which direction to take and so grateful for all the help I received from my parents and my teachers. I’m praying that my oldest will also find that special spark of interest to help illuminate her path. And I’m always looking for opportunities to encourage others along the way.


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)

6 thoughts on “The T-Square and the Pencil

  1. I think it’s fascinating that girls and boys in your school were required to take both home ec -and- industrial arts! (When I was in junior high school back in the early 1970’s, things were far more sexist — girls took home ec and boys took industrial arts.) Love that with the support and encouragement of your parents and teachers, you discovered your life’s path. All best wishes to your oldest as she dips a toe into the potential of this new school year!

    P.S. Love that you learned to cook in the asphalt lab! xo

    1. Thank you, Amy! Times sure have changed, haven’t they? My mother majored in home economics in college, then taught elementary school for 40 years. She said the only career choices for girls in the early 1960’s were teacher, nurse, or secretary. I’m thankful that women have broader opportunities to use their God-given gifts and abilities these days!

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