I was thinking about my Grandpa Liston the other day. He was a good man who loved to farm and raise animals. That man was always busy! When I was young, my grandpa would come over to help my dad work on our house. My dad was renovating and adding on to our house for most of my growing up years and my brother, two sisters and I were his construction crew. Grandpa would come over with his wit and wisdom and help nearly every day.
The one thing that I really remember is that when we would start to wind down from our day’s construction activities, my grandpa would wander around the construction site and gather up all of the bent nails from that day. I think that he did it for a couple of reasons: 1) he didn’t want us stepping on the nails and getting hurt, 2) he wanted us to appreciate the usefulness of an easily discarded item, and 3) he wanted us to learn to finish the job.
After gathering the bent nails in an old paint can, all of us would sit down on an old railroad tie and we would straighten bent nails for the next 15-20 minutes. When grandpa was satisfied with our finished product, he would then send us on our way.
At times, I thought that it was silly to straighten the nails because we had bags and bags of new nails, but when I look back I can see so much more going on. My grandpa was born in 1897 and he had lived through all of the wars, political problems, and financial turmoil of each generation. He worked hard because he had learned that hard work was the only way that he could provide for his family. When he was only 14 years old, his father died and because of family circumstances he was forced to be the main provider. He left home and became a cowboy. Glamorous? Not really. It was hot, dusty, lonely and a lot of long hours and hard work.
When he got married, he and my grandmother (another really hard worker) worked on a farm basically as slave labor from before sun-up to past sun-down. They were only able to go to town once every six months for supplies. If you ran out of something, you had to make do with something else. So you made sure that you wasted nothing. A previously bent nail was just as valuable as a new, never been used, straight nail. No Ace Hardware store to run to or Internet to place a spur-of-the-moment order and they had never heard of overnight express mail.
Times were slower then. That was the other lesson I learned from straightening nails. You can rest and slow down after a long day at work and still be productive. I can still hear my grandma saying, “Idle hands make the devil’s workshop.” Back in the day, again when I was young, I can’t ever remember seeing either of my grandparent’s hands being idle. If my grandmother wasn’t knitting, crocheting or tatting, then she was quilting – in her “not doing work” mode. My grandpa used to fuss over his tools making sure that they were in good working order. I hardly ever remember a day that he didn’t sharpen his pocket knife as he was visiting with the family. There were a lot of times that he would be whittling on a block of wood or carving a piece of leather to strengthen or fix something. Always busy – even while relaxing.
It seems that we are all pretty busy these days and sometimes it feels like we are just running in circles. Maybe we should slow things down a bit by being just a bit busy. I have a mending basket that is hardly ever full (metaphorically speaking – it isn’t a real basket; my mending just sits on a corner of my desk). My son keeps me supplied with a steady stream of jeans that need constant mending, but because I am “straightening my nails” I can keep up with the demand. I am finishing the quiet slow jobs when it is quiet and slow. Every Sunday as I sit with my husband, when I refuse to be distracted by the world’s cares, I choose a piece of clothing that needs to be mended and then just “whittle away at it” until the job is finished. No stress, no pressure, just relaxing busyness. It is very cathartic (emotionally cleansing).
Could I go down and buy a new pair of pants? It is completely possible, but not necessary because I can still find use in the mended ones. And that is a good feeling. Find your “bent nails.” It could come in the form of mending, like my method, or it could be in the form of needlepoint, knitting, genealogy, extracting names, reading a good book or writing a good book, writing a personal history or remembering and recording fun or important stories about your children when they were young. There are so many things that could use our time and talents that would recycle useful items (or information) and our sanity. These times are also a good time to teach the next generation the skills that must not be forgotten so that they can be better prepared for the future.
So do I straighten real nails anymore? No, but only because I don’t really use nails much anymore. Maybe when my grandkids come to visit we will have to find a project that needs some nails – maybe even some straightened ones.