I Knew I’d Never Forget



I ran last night after sunset, my path lit by a bobbling circle of fading light from my headlamp until the batteries died in full, and then even that was gone. But the light was intended mostly to make me visible to traffic, and there’s not much traffic on this road, so I plodded on. I like running in the dark.

A couple of months ago I smacked my left thumb with a hammer full on, a mighty blow in the midst of driving a 16 penny framing spike into an awkward juncture, and now the blackened nail is peeling away, a replacement slowly emerging beneath it, still a strange, stunted thing. As I ran, I rubbed at it with my forefinger, something I’ve been doing a lot recently, as if trying to make this new part of me familiar to myself.

Farther down the road, I lurched past Danny’s log truck, idling at the shoulder. I breathed in the acrid fumes of diesel exhaust, one of those smells that, like cigarette smoke, I find at once repulsive and strangely comforting for the memories it evokes: Riding the hay wagon behind Martha’s big John Deere, working in the woods with our own tractor, gathering bales in Melvin’s New Holland, back when the boys were small enough that they both fit into the cab with me. We always listened to classic rock, and loud. That’ll never happen again. The boys are too big, and they’ve got better things to do now, anyway.

I guess the truth is we’re always shedding things, little pieces of ourselves, ones we can see and ones we cannot. Ones that regenerate and ones that don’t. I have a new fingernail, or half of one, and the rest will come in time. I won’t be riding in the tractor with the boys anymore, but I remember it clear as day, how much the three of us loved gathering those bales, driving across that field, singing, that telltale whiff of exhaust. I think that even at the time I knew I’d never forget how happy it made me.






22 thoughts on “I Knew I’d Never Forget”

  1. I couldn’t tell how much your blackened thumb hurt. When I did that to myself more than 40 years ago, in Peacham, I couldn’t sleep. After a day or so of it, I went to some GP, the kind we don’t have any more. He produced a paper clip and a cigarette lighter, opened up the paper clip, and heated one end of it till it glowed red. He pressed it into the afflicted fingernail (or thumbnail, I forget). There was a hissing sound, some blackened blood spurted out, and in a few seconds the pain was gone. I don’t think he said much, but I know he enjoyed my wild, astonished expressions of gratitude, because he just grinned wryly at me.

  2. Ouch!

    I seldom see a carpenter with a hammer these days, as they have mostly been replaced with nail guns and air compressors.

  3. When our first kid was born, everyone told us to treasure every moment, “They’ll go so fast,” they said. At the time, bedraggled, sleep deprived, and weary, it was hard to believe them. Now that our oldest if five though, and our youngest is sleeping through the night, I’m finally starting to notice how incredibly quickly they grow, and how quickly things change. The question now is, do we plunge back in for a fourth, or just ‘coast’ through the natural evolution of life after babies?

  4. My daughter is 4 years old now and I’ve been thinking a lot lately that while I do appreciate the small bits of free time that her growing independence provides me, I need to appreciate every one of these days with her, even the frustrating ones. One of these days she won’t be content to snuggle up in bed and read with her Momma.

  5. “I knew I would never forget” even as a young kid whenever my dad was willing to take the time to take me fishing in his yellow Chevy Luv truck circa 1981. No muffler, but it never seemed to scare away the fish. Thanks Ben for this essay that anyone with kids ages 4-7 can relate to in a pointed way.

  6. I don’t really want to think about the time when my daughter will grow up to certain stages. She’s already telling me that when I kiss the top of her head it, ‘Gets on her nerves’. Hell no.

  7. As my dad winds down his 90 plus years on this earth I can’t find a single spot on our small farm that we’ve enjoyed for the last 40 years or so, that I can’t say “I remember when dad and I . . . ” I find it both a blessing and curse. As a father I say the kids grew up too darn fast; as a son, I say the parents age too darn quick. The dash between the dates on a headstone mean more and more every day.

  8. Hi Ben. I’m somewhat of a new follower. I just realized you moved to a new property from the one you wrote about in The Nourishing Homestead. Would you be willing to share the reason for moving to the new property? Your old property sounded so great.

    1. It was great. Still is, for another family.

      Really, there were too many reasons to go into here. I guess it boils down to “because we could”


  9. Yeah, life with growing kids…. Sometimes it makes me feel old already, yet proud too as I see them going out there, finding their own way…. for as far as possible. Memories shared, but with that ever present feeling of loss naging at the edges of my soul.
    Did the hammer vs. thumbnail routine too with a 2kg hammer, when laying the first floor of a timberhouse. Did an Indian rain dance in silence up there, those present with me did not dare to laugh, because I was silent…..
    Ended up drilling a small hole in the nail to release the pressure under it and then ended up cleaning the bathroom, which looked like a scene in a cheesy horror movie. The pressure under the nail dispersed that red fluid of life with such velocity that it made its way past or via the sink, mirror, wall unto the ceiling. The minute vibrations in my thumb due to the drilling almost made me pass out…..

  10. You guys with your thumb vs hammer war stories! Makes me shudder. This is why when I’m splitting kindling with the hatchet that I hold the kindling wood with another thin and long piece of wood so my fingers are far, far away!

      1. Sorry, you can try to pry my sissy stick from my cold dead fingers (at that time the sissy stick becomes moot) 🙂

        Truly I need it because I have yet to acquire the technique. Born clumsy I guess.

        I’ve seen people using a comb to hold the nail in easy places but I suppose that’s true in awkward places!

  11. This one kind of choked me up, Ben. ❤ I remembered when visiting you late summer, you glanced at my five-year old, and there in your eyes I sensed the same feeling as in this beautiful piece of writing: I won't be able to flip my boys upside down anymore. . . But I also remember my grandfathers hands, the strength of them when he hoisted us kids up on the tallest wagon full of hay which wobbled over the ditches pulled by a horse. Half the world away and third of the century back, I still remember. Grandparents leave all too soon, kids change and leave all too soon, helping us let go of attachments before the big one comes.
    I was watching "Peter and the Farm" couple nights back, smelling that Vermont grass through computer screen. Like Peter, you got your new place sanctified with your sweat, blood, and fingernails.
    Now, get off your butt and drive those boys to a couple more rock concerts. 🙂

  12. Sitting here with a sleeping newborn on my lap appreciating this moment. Excited for the adventures to come. Remembering the good old days with my dad and our matching walking sticks. Feeling all happy and nostalgic after reading this post. Thanks

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