Several weeks ago my family and I enjoyed “Prairie Days” at Shawnee Prairie Preserve, along with most of Darke County it seemed. It was a perfect fall day, warm and sunny, and the leaves were beginning to burst into spectacular hues. In every corner of the Preserve there was something to create or watch or learn or sense. Volunteers bustled. Children rustled. Parents hustled. It was about as perfect a three hour outing as we’ve ever had.
We made necklaces inspired (a little) by local Indian tribes, and tin can lanterns. We produced cider by cranking the apple press and candles by dipping twine into hot wax. We watched a tomahawk-throwing demonstration and ground corn into meal. We took a wagon ride and admired the patience and artistry of the ladies operating a 19th century loom. Each of us had a favorite enterprise or demonstration. Luke, for example, really enjoyed constructing his lantern, taking great pains to punch the holes in his tin can in precise conformity to the template he’d selected. He was a paragon of concentration, eyes fixed squarely on his task and tongue protruding like Michael Jordan preparing to drive to the hoop for two. I was particularly enamored with the stockade, for obvious reasons I suppose. Copping an attitude when I ask you to get your PJ’s on and get to bed? Talking back or excessively badgering your sibling? Coming home from school with a report of bad behavior? Put your head and arms in here, young’un—in the stocks with you, scurvy dog! I think it would make a nice addition to our front yard, add a little zing to our curb appeal.The capitalist in me wonders if we might clear a tidy profit renting it out to local parents, grandparents, law enforcement, and school personnel. But I digress.
Daniel’s clear favorite for the day was the nail-forging activity, supervised by a very kindly and knowledgeable blacksmith. Daniel was initially attracted by the orange glow of the steel rod and the sight of the blacksmith, as Daniel put it, “clobbering it really good.” Who could pass that up? All kids love to clobber, don’t they? So we approached the gentleman and my eldest son—no shrinking violet—announced “I want to make one. Can I make one? I want to make one. Please?!?” The gentleman replied “Sure!” and they began making a nail the old fashioned way.
The blacksmith guided Daniel through each step of the process, beginning with heating the iron stock. “Watch this!” exclaimed the blacksmith as he forced air into the forge with his bellows. “It’s about 2000 degrees in there now!” “Cool,” Daniel responded. “Ummm. Is that pretty hot?” The blacksmith retracted the stock, helped Daniel pound out a tapered end, and together they cut it to the proper length for a suitable nail. Next the blacksmith gripped the hot stock with his tongs and asked Daniel to strike the top of it to form the flat nail head. Daniel was all-too-eager to oblige, but wasn’t strong enough to exercise adequate control over the heavy sledgehammer. He was also adamant that I not intervene, so the women and children (and men, too) in the vicinity had to duck for cover to avoid getting conked by one of Daniel’s wayward swipes. Daniel made contact with the nail on one out of every three or four swings, and did so at odd angles and with inconsistent levels of force. Consequently, the finished nail was bent and funky looking. You couldn’t reproduce it if you tried. The blacksmith carefully pounded Daniel’s unique nail into a small block of wood and handed it to him to keep for posterity. He looked it over, shook his head at Daniel’s avant gardeproduct, and chuckled good-naturedly. “Well, young man, anybody can make a nail that looks like every other nail. It takes an artist to make a nail like yours!”
Daniel’s growing accustomed to such responses to his various pursuits—how he adds or subtracts numbers, how he hits a baseball, how he plays a piano. “Yeah,” he replied matter-of-factly. “I know. It’s okay. I’m unusual.”
I thought to myself, “Yes, Daniel, you are. And wonderfully, beautifully, artistically crooked.”
Timothy Swenson is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.