A Country Blacksmith

I remember a Danish blacksmith and welder, a tall man in his late sixties who talked, smoked, and trembled in the dim light of his barn. Floyd�s shop was adjacent to a rugged Grenache vineyard anchored in rich soil about ten miles west of Dinuba and a mile or two north, not far from the little Highway 99 town of Selma. I loved going there with my father. The place seemed enchanted, a home to generous working spirits that recalled the days when horses were a farmer�s mode of conveyance and source of power.

The barn was behind a house that belonged to Floyd�s mother or mother-in-law � my father told me once, but I don�t remember which. Either way, by acting as if the house were a mile away rather than a hundred feet, Floyd made clear his feelings for the person inside. As we drove past it slowly toward the barn or back out to the main road, I watched to see if the evil old woman would appear at one of the windows. She never did.

Beside the graveled driveway was a short row of apple and orange trees severely pruned and trained horizontally on vineyard wire � I believe espalier is the correct term for this method of restraint. The fruit was all within easy reach, and could be picked comfortably from the ground while leisurely smoking a cigarette or partaking of an evening drink. In front of the barn was an open area full of farm equipment, some of it new and covered with a shiny coat of bright red paint, some of it rusted and old, some of it waiting for repair. An old walnut tree shaded the south side of the building and the big open door, which, other than Floyd�s torch, was the barn�s main source of light. There was a little door in front, and a counter just wide enough to accommodate a telephone, a small tablet of invoices, a pen, and an ashtray � Floyd�s office.

Whether he was working or not, Floyd wore a leather apron. His skin was pale. The sparse hair on his head was almost always held in place by a snug brimless cap. Years of nicotine had stained his teeth, and, it seemed, even the whites of his eyes. Floyd�s trembling was of a gentle, steady nature, like a companion that had come for a visit and decided to stay. It didn�t keep him from his work, only from doing it quickly. After he had inhaled a lungful of smoke and removed the cigarette from his mouth, the cigarette described a small circle as Floyd exhaled and continued with the conversation. He loved to talk, but because of outward digressions and inward comparisons and ponderings, he didn�t cover very much ground. And since the ground he did cover was generally related to farming, we didn�t learn that much about him. I don�t know where he was born, for instance, or if he had children, or if he fought in any wars.

Seeing him as we did only occasionally, we knew Floyd more through his work, which was expertly done and beyond reproach. Many of the repairs he made were relatively simple, but now and again he was asked to build a piece of equipment from scratch based on a farmer�s rough idea. The results often included improvements the farmer hadn�t thought of. He also had a few pieces scattered around that he had invented, physical manifestations of his patience, ability, and intellect. But he never bragged about his work or tried to sell it. The most he would say was something like, �Well, I always thought there should be a way to . . .� and then, speaking in a kind, almost mournful voice, he would drift on to other subjects.

All of this took place years ago, near the intersection of two quiet country roads, on a small farm surrounded by vineyards and orchards. I would like to go back sometime and have a look around. I�m pretty sure the house and barn would still be there, and maybe even the walnut tree, but I have my doubts about the vineyard. If the place is still owned by someone in the family, it�s possible some of Floyd�s equipment is right where he left it, gathering rust. It would be a sight as touching as any cemetery, and, to me, just as meaningful.

July 9, 2005

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Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

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