The Plastic Models

by Veronica Ugulano

When we were going together, my husband and I got to the point where it was time to discuss the skeletons in the closet. You know how it is. You hope that your particular skeleton won't ruin the relationship, but you can't honestly go forward until you bring it out in the daylight.

"I need to tell you about a hobby of mine", he said. He sounded so ominous I really did begin to wonder what I had gotten myself into. With a little courage, he went on, "I build plastic models."

"Models? What kind?" I asked.

"Models of World War I airplanes." We were on the phone, but I could tell he was cringing.

"Oh. That's OK, I guess."

Actually, I hardly knew what he was talking about. My brother never built models at all when we were growing up, and I barely knew the hobby existed. Since there wasn't axe-murdering involved, though, I didn't feel overly concerned. I felt reasonably confident that we could weather this particular storm, and he seemed to relax a bit.

The first time I saw his apartment, it was pretty bare, but over in the corner, there was a small table with a light close by, some tools, and sure enough, a few boxes of plastic model kits, one with its parts out for all to see. It didn't seem too scary. He showed me a wing of the airplane he was working on. It didn't look like more than a slab of plastic to me, but I was pretty sure that he saw something much different. He started to talk about this airplane and some of the historic details surrounding it, and I'm pretty sure my eyes glazed over. I tried not to be impolite, but the perfect honest truth was – I hated History.

Did I mention how much I hate history? When I was a kid growing up, History was the most boring, mind numbing subject on the public school schedule. The History books were dry and uninteresting. I could never keep straight the dates or how one event turned the tide. However, I must have done well enough to pass each year, because they did give me my High School Diploma.

Even with the Plastic Model Incident, it wasn't enough to throw the relationship out the window, so we got married anyway. My new husband would wake up very early, and spend his quiet time tinkering with his models. Every day or so, he'd show off his progress, pointing out the details, and filling me in on historical details as he went. I had no clue what he was talking about, but it was important to him, so it was fine with me.

After a while, the names of the same historic people started coming up. Then I began to recognize some of the names of the airplanes. At the dinner table, he'd describe battles specific planes flew in, and how the design details of each plane might have affected the outcome of the battle. Little by little, the plastic model airplanes of World War I were making clear to me the events of the Great War.

From there, my amateur historian husband began to tie in information about what led up to the war, why World War II was just a continuation of World War I, and so on. We also discussed the advancement of technology, experimental airplanes, and why certain designs were abandoned in favor of others. Much to my surprise, despite my dislike of History class in school, I began to enjoy listening to him talk about the various historic events connected to the representations of the airplanes that he built.

By then, his skill in model building justified the need for better tools, and a better place to build. He built an elaborate shelving system to store his models, a huge worktable, and installed his first air compressor. So, by the time our son was born, it was pretty clear that plastic models were going to be a part of his life.

He always knew where to find Daddy when he was home from work, and Dad's stuff was definitely more fascinating that Mom's. Dad had airplanes! What more could a kid want? It wasn't long before he was learning gross and fine motor skills by handling the plastic parts, and by the time he was 6 he was building beginner models himself, even using an Xacto knife under supervision. Also, the dinner-time history lessons continued, with appropriate reviews of information to help the youngest member of the class to catch up.

Any modeler worth his plastic enters his work in one of the many plastic modelling contests across the nation. So, part of our yearly schedule included at least one contest a year, often out of town, meeting with people across California to play an ego bruising, advanced game of show-and-tell. A huge variety of kinds of people bring their models to these contests, from professional types to the beer and pizza set, a great place to "learn to deal with people".

Our son took his place in the ritual of contests after a year or two of building, experiencing the thrill of awards and the importance of being a good sport when he didn't place. There were also times when good sportsmanship was taught through a poor example, like when an almost 18 year-old young man insisted on entering his model in the Under-18-years-old competetition, even though he had been an expert modeller for years, simply because he wanted the trophy, or the time when an "over 29" year-old modeller stalked out of a contest because he didn't win.

Over the years, the contests taught our son the value of attention to detail, and the importance of not resting on one's laurels. Handling money has been an important sub-lesson due to the buying and selling of kits, and the need to budget his money to get the kits he wanted.

We've also met some great people that we probably wouldn't have met otherwise. Bob & Betty, whose youngest son was born about the time our son was, Jim, the cotton farmer, who didn't mind when I hung around while the guys talked plastic, Scott, who sells that absolutely cool silver paint that actually stays on the model, and of course, Steve Trone, who came for dinner with the purpose of giving us a hard time, but ended up being a good friend.

My son doesn't build plastic models as much as he used to, and his area of interest leans toward jets and robots rather than WWI. However, out of all of our family projects, this has been one of the longest running, but also one of the most educational we have ever had. Plastic modelling has taught both my son and I, a very long list of things that we never knew, and even transformed a subject that I always hated into one I could almost enjoy. If I had known how valuable my husband's hobby was in the beginning, I certainly would have shown more enthusiasm that day on the phone.


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