Memories and Musings: Measure twice, cut once!

Published 9:35 am Saturday, May 28, 2022

By Gene Gallelli

I never imagined that the advice my Uncle Bruno gave me many years ago while helping me build a closet would evolve into a metaphor for many important decisions in later life. (My uncle could turn a pile of scrap lumber and a handful of seeds into a cherished heirloom and grocery produce section, respectively.)

“Eugene, measure twice and cut once!” he said after watching me cut a board that wouldn’t fit anything, anywhere – another too-short piece of lumber purchased with my limited budget, wasted.

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The closet turned out great. It wasn’t very big, but that was okay, because in my early teaching days my wardrobe was very limited, requiring me to be creative with two shirts, a blazer and a pair of khakis.

Getting back to my uncle’s sage guidance to measure twice and cut once: Upon reflection, I realized that his advice was the perfect metaphor for managing many of life’s challenges, confrontations and knee jerk reactions.

I’ll explain.

Suppose while shopping at a busy supermarket on Saturday morning someone bangs into you with their cart at the checkout line. You could knee-jerk and say, “Watch where you’re going!” Or, “Excuse me! Am I in your way?!”

Either response could result in an argument or worse, upset the uncomfortable checkout clerk, hold up the checkout line or all of the aforementioned.

Instead, you might smile and move up (measure twice) and say, “Let me give you some room.” (Cut once!)

Pretend you’re in an electronics store to buy just a ream of paper when you notice the Chromebook you’ve wanted is on sale. You yank out the credit card, then remember the phone bill is due (measure twice). You buy the paper and head home. (Cut once.)

On a personal note and with an unexpected role reversal, while I was peeking at my daughter baking a pig-pickin’ cake, I noticed the full measuring cup of milk in her hand and said, “That looks like an awful lot of milk for one cake.” Respectfully, she put on her glasses, checked the recipe and emptied one-half cup of the milk. By the way, the cake was delicious and the “twice-once” wisdom was kept alive and doing well.

There are many gimmicks available for avoiding bad decisions: Count to 10, take a deep breath or ask yourself if your first reaction is necessary, kind or will improve the situation. Everyone has a favorite.

Of course, the important lesson is: When someone pushes your buttons, look for a better way to respond than “jerking your knee.” There usually is.

While the advice may not qualify as brain surgery, Uncle Bruno’s experience and knowledge will always qualify as brilliant wisdom and an expression of love for an awkward nephew posing as a carpenter.

As a later-in-life metaphor, it has saved me from several unpleasantries at the supermarket and a career of making better-informed, important decisions, not to mention the friendships saved.

Thanks, Uncle Bruno.

Gene Gallelli was Associate Superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his Doctor of Education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.