Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

cutting boards, character, and throw-away culture

cutting board

photo by the author

This cutting board cost me $15. On sale, sure, but all it needed was some TLC and it rivals my other cutting board/ chopping block, which cost more than 5x that much. Because this cutting board, when I bought it, was wrapped in torn and clouded cellophane. Not to mention whatever had been used to seal it smelled rancid.

This was NOT an alluring cutting board. :)


Because I know cutting boards, I bought it. It’s well-made, and again, all it needed was some love. I scrubbed the daylights out of it w/ a scrubber, then put salt & lemon on it to lift the odour. It needed a LOT of scrubbing, and a lot of lemon & salt paste, as well. A few days later, it was ready for Boos board magic (an amazing mix of mineral oil and beeswax).

I put the cream on it by hand, rubbing it in all over. Then left it overnight, for the wood to soak it up. It took another application of hand-applied magic the next day. But now? I have this beautiful, functional cutting board. For $15.00 and some board cream I use anyway. All it took was seeing the potential. And really? It looks every bit as good as my expensive chopping block that I’ve had for 10 years.


chopping block

photo by the author

Can you guess where this is going…?

Many years ago, when my older son was in middle school, there were several boys he hung out with, all of whom I loved. But one was especially memorable: his father was divorced, w/ custody of the three children. The boy always seemed at a loss ~ G was a sweet kid, but often acted out, as boys (my own included) do. Girls too, as one of those who did.


The principal at the middle school the boys attended wrote my son — and his friends — off. They were throw-aways, too much effort. Note to others: do NOT mess w/ my kids. I was able to get my son out from under the influence of the principal (I never really worried about the boys — they were usually at our house, anyway); my husband spoke to the principal, and he backed off of my son. But he still had it in for the other boys, several of whom weren’t as obviously cared for as my son. Torn clothes (and not fashionably so!), bleached hair (although my son’s was, at one time, blue), the sullen stance of many middle school boys.

decline in boys in school

from Crux Research


Plus my son’s friends weren’t blond, blue-eyed white boys, obviously  middle class. They were mixed-race, sometimes less polite, and with parents less actively engaged. At least a couple were blue-collar, as if that should matter. None were ‘name brand’ cutting boards, in other words. Some of their parents worked two jobs, unable to make the many school conferences and events we attended religiously. And G’s father was, let’s face it, not only ‘foreign,’ but a TV ad for a mail-order bride. Really. Neither went over well in Middle America, I assure you.

Still, how do you get to be principal at a middle school and not love kids? And why is America so willing to throw away children as if they had expire dates? Boys seem especially vulnerable, although perhaps — as the mother of sons — I’m sensitive. Wouldn’t you expect a middle school principal to know as much about boys as I do about cutting boards? And to put in the time and energy it took to make sure they were functional and cared for?


Years later, I still grieve for that boy, now a young man like my son. Unlike my son — who is happily married to a wonderful woman, w/ a darling son of his own, and a wonderful job at a top research university, G was shot in gang-related violence. He’s paralysed, and never did finish school, dropping out not long after the principal judged him discardable.

If he’d been a cutting board, I could have saved him.


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