Bent Nails and Balls of String


Both of my grandfathers had a metal coffee can filled with bent nails.  When my grandparents broke up housekeeping and moved in with us they brought along with them a myriad of old hand tools and several tin cans filled with bent nails and a railroad track anvil.  It was a different time.  People saved bent nails, and balls of string, and aluminum foil.  Times were hard, had been hard, and people were afraid they would be hard again.Railroad Track Anvil

I used that same hunk of ‘discarded’ railroad track for 50 years myself. Sometimes I used it to straighten nails.  Old habits die hard.  Even when there was a hardware store not far away, sometimes it was easier to go to the basement, throw out a bunch of old nails on a counter top, rummage around in the pile until I found one that would do the job, and then straighten it out so I could use it. Then there were other times that I used that old railroad track to straighten parts, and anything that needed pounding on.  It’s amazing how many of those things you can come up with in a lifetime!

I wonder if anyone saves bent nails anymore. My grand parents (and my parents too) saved a lot of things.  My parents lived thorugh the Great Depression. Everyday life was worse for them than what many experience here in this country today.  But in those days no one hand anything.  Everyone they knew was poor.  They made do with what they had.  As I grew I didn’t know how little we had.  It was our life, we weren’t feeling sorry for ourselves and we sure weren’t going to let anyone know how poor we really were.  We pulled nails, and save them.  We salvaged wood and reused it.  Oh, we collected aluminum cans, and newspapers too, back in the days before recycling when you could save and bundle newspaper and sell it to the scrap dealer.   I remember many times when we drove to the scrap man with the back end of a station wagon filled to the roof with bags of can and bundles of paper to earn enough money to fill the tank with gas.

Bent-NailConsidering that I’m writing this during the week of the Republican General Convention and there have been shootings of police in the last few days it’s a strange contrast I see around me in this country.  On one side you have folks who are astoundingly rich fighting to get more power.  And at the same time you have people who are saddeningly poor struggling to survive.  At times I wonder if anyone knows that life is about anymore.

I am amazed that people are so eager to tell everyone how hard their lives are. I really don’t understand that.  I grew up thinking that if I was having a hard time if I worked harder, prepared myself for the workplace and got a better job that the hard times would go away.  I don’t know if peopl are that optimistic anymore.  It seems that it’s popular to be depressed & disillusioned, rather than upbeat and determined.

vintage coffee canNow that we are downsized and I no longer have that hunk of railroad track, and I no longer keep an old coffee can filled with bent nails I find there are days when I miss them. I still save screws and nails.  I keep them in a slightly fancier fishing tackle box — with separate cubicles for different sized nails and screws.  I don’t keep as many — I don’t do as many projects in the RV to accumulate them but I get tired of running to the Home Depot store to buy 3 screws or 4 nuts; specially if I have a few left over from the last project.

While politicians are putting on a big show I’m sitting here reminiscing about old nails. When this political show is over another bunch of politicians are going to put on another big show. It’s election year and there are promises to be made to the electorate (never mind whether anyone fulfilled the promises they made 4 years ago).  There are lies to be told and there is money to be raised.  Politics is big business.  Perhaps the biggest business there is.

While all that is going on I’m quite content to live in the forest and put on a smiley face when a tired camper arrives late at night after driving 600 miles only to find that the campsite he reserved is too small for the camper he’s pulling. Or he thinks it’s too small, and he’s upset and grumpy.  The fact that he knows how long the site is, and how long his trailer is — but he’s just too tired to deal with it doesn’t make the late night intrusion any more acceptable.  He needs help.  He’s a wayward traveler in need of a little comfort.  So I put him someplace until the morning and tomorrow we’ll go look at that site and he’ll realize that he can fit just fine, and after a good night’s sleep he’ll be a happy camper all over again.

Hmmm…. I don’t have a can full of nails.  And I don’t have a hunk of railroad track to pound on… But somehow I feel as if I’m still straightening bent nails and helping people pound them into the lumber of their existence; constructing a life out of a hodge podge of bits and bobs they found along the way.  Ya know, we have a lot more stuff in this country than we did 50 years ago, or 75 years ago, or 100 years ago. But when you come right down to it people are bascially the same.  We all struggle to make an existence.  The pomp and circumstance goes on around us but OUR bottom line doesn’t change all that much.  The rich have what they have. The poor don’t.  And all of us are straightening nails to help each other out.

Well, some of us are.  I’m not sure what the rest are doing.

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9 Comments

    1. I remember when I couldn’t make ends meet that I got a second job; I understand we have true poverty in our country. But I don’t understand when people can’t put food on the table or say they can’t that you still see a DISH Network tower on their section 8 apartment and a cell phone in there hand. We work so hard to make a better life for our children that they do not realize what real property is in most cases

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      1. Kim — I think that in many cases the way we grow up establishes patterns that are hard to break. I will always remember my dad coming home from work (he was a union blue collar worker) all upset because the new-hire children of other union members were driving brand new pickups and thought they had to have all the appliances and toys that their parent had worked a lifetime to acquire. We grow up thinking that our lives are normal — whereas our lives are often the results of the sum total of our parents good-/mis- fortune.

        They don’t know you can live without those things because they never have.

        They don’t choose to live without those things because in too many cases their lives have been hemmed in on too many sides and they have been given everything they wanted, instead of having to work for much of anything.

        That’s ok though…things change. We take what we have for granted in this country in the same way that people in many other countries have done, and governments change, revolutions happen and suddenly a developed country is back in the middle ages again… It happens.

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  1. I think my husband has straightened out a nail on the rare occasion. My son bends railroad tie nails on purpose. He forges and makes those nails into wall hooks. They’re one of his popular selling items.

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    1. I’ve seen someone who does wall hooks like that! Clever idea. We have a friend in MKE who is a full time Blacksmith and he does all manner of curious things with iron.

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