Sunday, October 26, 2008
Solder and Coffee
I have been working in our Solid State lab at work, on and off for the last month or so, doing wire and solder work. Solder is pronounced saw-der. Soldering is the process by which electronic components are attached to a printed circuit board (the "guts" of anything that is electronic), by melting a composite metal until it makes a complete unbreakable contact between the metal on the printed circuit board and the metal contact of the component. (It is also used in making stained glass and jewelry, though I have never tried my hand at either of those.)
When I started soldering at work, it had been a very long time since I had worked with a soldering iron. I learned to work one when I was a teenager. My father, an electronics design engineer, decided that if I was going to earn some money by working a job as a teenager, I ought to learn to do something useful, other than flipping hamburgers and asking people if they want fries with that, I guess. So, he began to teach me his trade.
I learned to solder and how to make printed circuit boards (like, the actual boards that the components go into). By the time I was 18, I had helped to pay for part of my Catholic School education, had purchased my own car and insurance, had mastered a useful skill or two and learned the value of hard work, done well.
Fast forward 25 years.
I am now working for an organ company. In addition to my music background, and my computer and customer service background, I have found a spot where my highly specialized skill of printed circuit work comes in handy. It's kind of relaxing for me, since it is one of the earliest job skills I acquired. One of the first things that I noticed was the smell. Solder has a distinctive smell from the composite of metals and flux. It is a smell that I associate with home since my father ran his company from our basement until I was in High School. But something was missing: coffee.
I am not a huge coffee drinker. Sometimes I will have a cup in the morning to get my eyes open, but usually that's it. But, when I solder, I have to have a cup of hot coffee sitting right next to me, where I can smell it. My Dad was an inveterate coffee drinker and the combination of smells reminds me of home. Solder goes with coffee, and coffee goes with "home". Somehow, the coffee and solder smells, together, make it all "right".
So every time I come in to work, if I have to solder, I go up to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of coffee and then go turn on my soldering iron. While I drink my coffee and the iron heats up I think about how grateful I am that my dad cared enough and trusted me enough to teach me about his work.
Then I smile, think of home and get to work.