by Dave Markwell 
I’m currently working on an interesting little deck project. This project has involved some demolition, re-framing, new decking, posts, and rails, etc. During the demo phase, I found myself standing in the sun with a handful of old nails tenderly straightening them on a beam top for later use. In this moment, I was reminded of the countless times that I sat with a rusty coffee can of bent nails and a hammer and a board and tapped the old nails into shape. This was not a duty I requested, my grandpa made me do it. But, like most jobs that I didn’t particularly enjoy as a young boy, I’m glad I did it.
My grandpa was a depression era kid from North Dakota. He hopped a train out west and became a carpenter. He was a proud member of a dying generation of fixers, figure-it-outers, and nail straighteners. His creative contraptions were constructed using whatever materials were cheap or free. And I recall them being pretty great.
One such contraption was his garden watering system, which involved a 55 gallon barrel that we would load into his old Willys jeep and drive into the Tahuya River to fill up with buckets and then take home to hoist, using a complicated pulley system, on top of a pedestal to gravity feed a string of hoses to water a fairly substantial garden of beans and corn and raspberries. I smile when I think of these things and I’m proud to have been touched by this generation.
The world seems to be a different place these days. Things feel more complicated, and might be, but might not be. I don’t think the world changes as much as it may appear. Certainly, we do things differently and there may not be as many kids standing at a dusty work bench straightening nails, but I don’t think people really change that much, either. Back then, folks loved their families and friends and would help where needed. There was some fun and some not fun and some laughter and some heartbreak…pretty much the same as now.
The primary distinction, as I see it, is mostly pragmatic, not one of heart. Sure, nowadays kids would rather stare at their phones than play hopscotch or spin tops, but hearts are the same. And hearts are always good. They always have been and always will be. The world is different, but people are the same. Our kids enjoy the same vast potential for greatness as the “greatest generation”.
I trust that my son possesses the strength of character to build a nation or die for it, if duty called. I trust that my daughter possesses the mind and spirit to shape our world in magnificent ways. Understanding a certain parental bias, I also understand that all kids, always, are capable of tremendous things. Gratefully, my kids (our kids…for the most part) don’t have to stand on street corners selling apples or hop trains to build new lives. But, they could.
I like knowing this. The resilience of the human spirit is alive and well. Through all the bluster and debate and conflict, this certainty rises. And it’s right and real and true. We’re going to be ok. We’re always going to be ok. No matter how many loud voices say otherwise. Our kids are the truth and so are the grandpas that made us straighten nails. This is an important thing to remember. We’re all the same. And this might be the most important thing to remember of all.
Each night, I say the same prayer: “Please let it be the RIGHT thing.” The “it” changes, but includes all aspects of love and life and loss and gain and is a profound wish that, no matter the consequences, whatever happens serves a purpose higher than I can imagine in the moment. This prayer comforts me. It allows me some optimism and hope, in spite of circumstance, and a confidence that what is right will prevail. I suspect that this prayer is not mine alone. As the sun sets over the waters of my youth, I can easily imagine my grandpa, in the hot fires of his own struggles and uncertainties, folding his hands and saying something similar.
And, standing in the late summer heat, holding a newly straightened nail, I am happy and proud of the legacies left to me and trust that the right thing will always be the right thing, and that life goes on, as it always has and always will. And I’m happy with this knowledge…
[EDITOR’S NOTE:”Feel Good Friday” is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, whose first book is called “A Feel Good Life” (buy it on Amazon here ). He also runs the Waterland Arcade, located at 22306 Marine View Drive South. Dave extols to all neighbors: “Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!” Also, Dave needs more friends – find him on Facebook here .