The Canadian celebration of Heritage Day, for me, always meant a day spent with my dad. He’d put on his best boots and cowboy hat and we’d drive to Weaver Park in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, where we’d spend the afternoon looking at exhibits from bygone times. Heritage Day is all about the indomitable human spirit, whatever your heritage may be.
One of Dad’s favorite stops was at the blacksmith display. (Also the coffee and donuts table, but that’s another story.) We’d meander up to the forge where black smoke poured into the air and there we’d find my son Justin Walker, covered in soot and hammering on some red-hot steel. He’s not only a talented musician, he’s a blacksmith too.
Justin was the youngest member of the Border Blacksmith’s Guild when he joined, back about 17 years ago, and I imagine they were pleased to have a youth enter their ranks. Thanks to shows such as “Forged in Fire” blacksmithing has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the last while, but there weren’t many teenagers interested in learning the craft back then. However, young or old, we all make a few blunders when learning something new.
Every month, this guild held a meeting where members would bring a forge and a project to work on. One cold winter’s day, after hammering all morning in a large shop, the group sat for lunch in a circle of provided chairs. Justin rustled in his lunch bag and drew forth a bacon sandwich. He sank his teeth in pleasurably.
Presently, the host bustled away, only to return carrying two Styrofoam egg cartons filled with treats. He then made his way around the room giving every person a small, caramel-coloured morsel, each nestled in colourful cupcake wrappers and speared through the center with a Popsicle stick.
“Thank you very much,” Justin said politely, as the man handed him the delicacy. Justin looked at it, surreptitiously lifting the square to his nose. It appeared to be some concoction containing honey, he decided. Strange, he thought, but perhaps it was meant to cleanse the palate?
Not wishing to appear rude, Justin raised his lump in a token of goodwill to the fellow seated across from him and with considerable difficulty, gnawed a chunk off one side. He began working the tiny tidbit around his mouth. Strange stuff, he thought, finally getting out a thermos of hot tea and pouring himself a drink to wash the gummy substance down his gullet.
Several of the men began to cast sideways glances Justin’s way and, idly, he wondered about that too. However, he had enough to contend with as he wrestled with the resistant dessert, so he ignored them.
With considerable effort, Justin manfully bit off another knob of the unpleasant sweet and chewed interminably, finally adding a bite of his bacon sandwich to the material in an effort to work it down his throat. He had noticed, oddly enough, that, although malleable, the basic components of the stuff never changed. Both texture and size remained the same no matter how he attacked it. In the end, he was forced to apply his entire mug of tea to the lumpish mass before it was gone, and swallowed noisily.
Finally, the host stood up, lifting his own treat into the air. “This ole beeswax has collected dust in here for 12 years,” he said. “It’s great for preventing rust on steel though, so use plenty.”
Justin looked down at the empty wrapper in his hand with that sinking feeling you get when you find out you’ve just ingested a chunk of filthy wax that’s been sitting in a machine shop for the past 12 years. Suddenly he didn’t feel so great.
The host walked over, noticing Justin wasn’t using his wax, and asked him why.
“Sorry…” Justin answered in a low voice. “I’m afraid I don’t have it any longer. I ate mine.”
“You ate it!” the man repeated incredulously.
And there you have a fine example of the indomitable human spirit (not to mention a tough intestinal tract). Happy Heritage Day.