One of the great pleasures of summer when I was a boy was spending a week on my grandfather (Pop) Griffith’s farm. The opportunities for fun were seemingly endless.
He had horses. And he would let us ride on their sweaty backs on the way from the fields back to the barn. These were not saddle-bred, leisure riding horses (although one was rumored to have some racing genes in his blood back several generations) but working stock. Both were red with blaze white faces; the smaller one, Tony, was a bit stubborn and high-strung (had to be the racing heritage); the bigger one, Dick, had a broad back and feet like pie plates.
Pop had a tractor that rarely left the shed; he preferred to work behind his horses, and I’d follow him to the field and stay all day just to get to ride back to the house when he was done. He tried to teach me to plow on several occasions but a combined lack of strength and direction proved my undoing, along with a few rows of corn.
My grandfather was also a good blacksmith. He kept his horses shod, his plow points sharp and all his tools in working order. And he had a magnificent workshop. By modern standards, the little shed where he kept his tools was a bit primitive—hammers, saws, planes and other hand tools suspended from well-placed nails on the wall, stacks of reclaimed boards, cans of once-used and slightly bent nails. But to a 10-year old boy it was a play house.
He had a vise, lots of tools and plenty of scrap wood and recycled nails to create weapons of mass amusement. We would put a small board into the vise, where we could saw it into useful lengths without cutting a knee. We used Pop’s drawing knife to taper boards to vaguely resemble a sword or a rifle barrel. A small crosspiece nailed near the top made for a good sword handle. A clothespin, purloined from Grandmother’s “solar dryer” and tacked onto the rear of a board fashioned to resemble a gun served as a trigger for our rubber band ammo.
We tried using Pop’s file to smooth out rough edges but he informed us that wood shavings embedded in the file teeth would hamper its usefulness the next time he needed it to do what files are supposed to do.
He made stuff for us, too. I remember a windmill that spun with the slightest breeze on a fencepost in our backyard for years. Pop cut the propeller out of a five-gallon bucket lid. He used washers and a new nail to attach it to a short piece of one-by-one. He cut a triangle out of a piece of scrap tin and nailed that to the back end. A hole in the middle of the fuselage big enough to allow the arm enough “play” to swing around to meet the breeze allowed me to tell which way the wind was blowing for years.
Sadly, I didn’t inherit any of Pop’s carpentry, mechanical or farming skills. My wife cringes every time I walk through the house with a wrench or a hammer. And the mere suggestion that I might build something as simple as a book shelf is met with derisive laughter and a quick “maybe not.” I understand the sentiment; she appreciates the talents I do have and we both know my limitations.
I did learn things from Pop though: A deep appreciation for self-reliance; a love for simple things; and a life-long admiration for farmers.