When we moved into the Yew Avenue house a couple years back, son-in-law Brad helped me “deconstruct” a nice hen house tacked to the metal storage shed in the back yard. (I like hen’s eggs, but I don’t much care for live chickens, so I was happy to be rid of the hen house.) Anyway, I stacked the lumber we salvaged between the cedar fence and the back of the shed…and promptly forgot about it in deference to the more pressing projects that came with the purchase of the house. “Out of sight, out of mind,” fit the situation nicely.
This spring I finally got around to cleaning up the detritus gathered in and around the storage shed, including the lumber salvaged from the hen house. The two-by-fours still had the nails sticking out, ready to stab, cut, and tear the flesh of the unwary. (Or puncture a shoe sole, something I haven’t experienced since I was a kid. Tetanus shots anyone?)
My first impulse was to take my skill saw and just cut the ends of the two-by-fours and toss the end pieces and the nails in the trash. But a wash of memories from a childhood building project nagged me into pulling all the rusty nails and putting them in a coffee can…saved for one of those just-in-case times..in memory of one fine summer on the Rogue River in Shady Cove, Oregon.
In those days it seemed like every small town had its own sawmill. I know Shady Cove did, and there was a one-horse mill in Eagle Point. That mill was my favorite because during the process of turning round logs into square lumber a lot of odd sized boards were cut and then tossed on the scrap pile. And a pickup load was simply free for the trouble of loading the lumber.
During my eighth year of life, my cousin Terry spent the summer with us. We whiled the summer away swimming in the big hole above the old bridge, catching fish, fighting wars with our rubber-band guns, and building our very own “fort” from lumber Grandpa Troop hauled in from the Eagle point mill.
We had us a handsaw for cutting boards, a slow job since the saw was pretty well used up, a battered wood-handled hammer, and a bucket of rusty nails. We scouted up big flat rocks for a foundation, framed our fort into a lean-to shed, and nailed it together with crooked nails from the bucket. (We got pretty good at the business of straightening nails.)
When we finished, we had a floor, four walls, and a shed roof. I can’t say the roof would keep the rain out, but I don’t remember a single rain storm testing our handy work that summer so it didn’t matter much.
Mother gave us an old mattress we dragged to the fort and squeezed through the door. Memory says we never quite got around to building a real door, so we just lived with the opening. And then we moved in and slept most nights that summer in our very own fort. A broken double-barrel shotgun hung from two big nails over the door. We were happy campers.
But it is the nature of things, or so it seems to me, to change. Summer faded, Terry left for home, school started again. The nights turned cooler, and I moved from the fort to an upstairs room in the big summer house we rented that year.
And then one Fall afternoon I walked home from school, crossed the bridge to the south side of the river, walked a short piece of the road leading to the Cove, and up our gravel driveway. As I walked to the back door, I noticed my fort had been moved, and a stack of new lumber sat where the fort belonged. The process of moving it had wracked the little building to the point of near collapse.
I was furious, and I was crying when I took a hammer and knocked all the boards apart and tore the fort down. (I won’t share the name of the man who ruined my fort, but I still remember him some 71 years later. He’s long dead, but I still think he was a worthless, unfeeling s.o.b.)
But, to put a period on this tale of years gone by, after I finished the destruction of our summer fort, I pulled every crooked, rusty nail and put each back in the nail bucket. That may be why it is still hard for me to throw away any rusty nails.