It was work, good wholesome work, that held the nation together with each nail or mended wheel. The tools of the trade were honest, having no pretense or subterfuge like found in politics. Hard tools for making horse shoes and knowing that life was better for the way the shoe fit.
My great grandfather was a smithy. He and his wife formed a team that could take on the world. They followed the principal that hard work made for honesty. They were a partnership of American ingenuity and creativity, making things that would last and be valued. On Sundays, he became the minister and she the minister’s wife. Their congregation came to church to hear sermons that extolled virtue, charity, and kindness and left feeling that the world was a wonderful place to be in. They were all one generation that followed the pioneer spirit that led to the expansion of the United States, and they were proud.
Having followed the legacy of their parents, and having bloomed in the black rich soil of Minnesota, they cherished education and culture above all else. It was this passion that brought music, theater, literature and art and made them more than simple folk. And they took their congregation with them. They were members of the Grange, a society that stood for the good in mankind. It stood for the civilized expansion of farmers, blacksmiths, small town storekeepers and it kept life refined. She played the violin, he smoked his pipe and told the young ones stories from the bible. There were contests in spelling and grammar, the spelling bee being a way to bring children up, rather than see them running wild in the world. Everything had a order to it.
Generational families lived in a house or close by. Mothers were there to help Grandmothers. Grandfathers were there to teach the young boys how to become men. Life had a purpose, and the ideals of the middle class were brought to light in the fires of the smith.
My mother was sent to my great grandparents when her parents needed time to do things that a little girl might be a pest during. But she was welcomed, hugged, given a kiss and sent to play out in the gardens with grandmother’s watchful eye keeping an eye on her. Once when she wanted to play with a bee, and wouldn’t listen to that clear warning voice, she was shocked into behaving by the application of cold water from the hose her grandmother was using to water the kitchen garden. The cold water was followed by a hug and another warning that bees needed to be bees and little girls shouldn’t play with them. There was no trauma, no extensive punishing needed. There were rules and they were best followed.
Her grandfather would work in the shop, making things for the house when he had no customers for the day. Or he would create and set aside the makings for wheels and horseshoes so that customers wouldn’t have to wait. He was always thinking ahead. New inventions fascinated him. He’d quickly learn which parts might need fixing, which parts he could mend, for that is what a blacksmith takes pride in. Somedays he would ask Grandmother to assist him in creating an order. She was meticulous in measuring and sizing. When she had down what was needed doing, she’d return the to house where there was always something that needed doing.
Neighbors would come to tea some afternoons. They would sit at the polished kitchen and discuss the community, but never gossip. Something would have to be done, and someone was designated to do it. A young lady needed advice, and grandmother would undertake that mission after clarifying why she needed the advice. She was the backbone of the women’s charity. Every summer and fall, between harvests, the women would meet to make quilts, or clothes. The pins and needles were kept busy.
You never talked badly about your neighbor. No, instead you would listen and make the comment to change the opinion of the other. If someone was afraid that civilization would fail, she’d bolster the person to make them feel positive instead.
When a fire burnt a neighbors house, the family would rally the church to go make things right. Supplies would be donated, windows glassed, iron reinforcements used in the corners of the wooden houses. When a death occurred, the husband and wife would be the first to help the survivors mourn.
It was the smithy that caused young men to go to school and learn. It was the minister’s wife who encouraged the women to go to college. If there were funds in the church budget, small scholarships would be given for those who needed the assistance. These were never in the form of a loan, but given with the idea that education would widen your horizons so you could help others.
I know that there were problems, medical science was in its infancy and so illness was an evil that lurked in the shadows. I know also that there were wars in the future. Eventually technology surpassed the smithy, lessening the need for his services. But they prevailed over those things too. It was the iron and the smithy that brought my great-grandparents to Minnesota in a time when they were needed. They were the backbone of the community, the innovators, the compassionate.