Strolling past the Historic Arkansas Museum on the way to the Fortress of Employment the other day, we couldn't help but overhear two fellas who were building a gate in front of the new blacksmith shop outside the Plum Bayou House log cabin.
"I'll need to temper those nails," one of them said. Just that. Just a short snippet of convo, and then The Observer strode on. For those who haven't kept up with their metallurgy since high school, tempering is the process of heat-treating something to make it harder and more resilient — in this case, nails, which need to be stiff enough to drive with a hammer.
The whole of the blacksmith shop over at HAM, which rose up out of the grass last summer, was done like that: The Old Fashioned Way, right down to the hand-tooled joinery of the rafters and the forged hinges and the handmade bellows to stoke the forge inside. It was a heck of a thing seeing it all go together over the course of a few months, and struck us as kinda funny at the time, this idea of people making something by hand like they were stuck in an 1850's time vortex, just because they could.
We got a reminder of that the other day, when we heard those two fellas talking about spending more of their precious lives making a handful of nails for the gate when there are squat-tons of perfectly good 16 penny sinkers at Home Depot for a penny apiece. That moment made Your Old Pal think that maybe there's more to it than folks seeking the novelty of doing things the way granddad did. It's an ideal. And by gum, they were sticking to it to the end.
There's something about that kind of dedication that makes The Observer giddy, be it in public service or politics or even in hand-making nails that folks aren't going to glance at twice, just because that's what needs to be done. It might strike some as a little corny to put so much effort into something like that, in this world that seems to move so quickly. It doesn't make good sense, other than from a connection-to-the-past sorta way. That said, we can totally relate to that desire to slow things down and make the moment last. Keep on tempering, fellas.
The Observer got more mail and phone calls about last week's piece on Junior taking up the tuba than just about anything we've written in recent memory. Feelings about that low-voiced thicket of brass run deep among its admirers and devotees.
One phone call we received at the office was simply a tubist playing a very intricate composition using only his or her tuba mouthpiece. It still sounded like an antelope choking on a kazoo, but this antelope could carry a tune you could dance to. Then there were the e-mails from kind tuba players, former tuba players and those who love tuba players who wanted to share their experiences.
Here's one that was especially touching to The Observer's heart, penned by a proud dad of a no-doubt-even-prouder member of the mighty Razorback Band: "Our son chose band in the sixth grade, and by ninth grade, had been persuaded by a dedicated director to take up the tuba. He eventually bonded with his instrument, and maybe even felt a little polite pity for those who played smaller horns. Yes, we were very excited to be in the stands at the Missouri State game on Labor Day weekend to see him play with the Razorback Band for the first time. And, by the way, I think there are about twenty-three Razorback tubas this year."
The e-mails and calls made The Observer remember the dim days of yesteryear, when we played trombone in the high school band. Specifically, we remembered the kindness of the young people in the chairs beside us, our musical brothers and sisters, who collectively wrestled those devilish eighth notes and sixteenth notes alongside The Observer. Rarely in life have we felt so accepted as when we were tuned up, somewhat on key and playing music with our friends. Whether or not Junior becomes one of those 23 tubas tooting in support of the Razorbacks someday is really incidental. Mostly, we just hope he'll get to know that same brand of personal harmony as well as he knows the scales.