Nate dropping and picking up nails

My hands reached up and steadied the oak beam my husband was jacking into place in the basement under our house. As he measured the distance to the floor beams above, I glanced over at our then 1-year-old. He stood in the bottom step, in front of the old table we had crammed there. A clutter of tools, screws, nuts and bolts, buckets of metal odds and ends and a bucket of nails covered the top of the table. The jumble attracted him like a steel to a magnet.
His hand reached over the edge of the bucket, picked up a nail, studied it and dropped it absentmindedly to the floor. As I held the oak beam, I watched him take out another nail and let it fall to the floor. He was making a mess, but I knew where he was and what he was doing while I was stuck to my post.
He picked up a screw, studied it, opened his fingers and watched it fall beside the others: Between the stairs and wall. No one could reach them as long as the table stayed close to the stairs. The nail was out of harm’s way until the remodeling was done and we moved the table back where it belonged. For the few minutes my hands were needed on the project., I settled on letting him pick up and drop nails.
Through the rest of the summer, the older children, my husband and I worked side by side. The littlest one was just as busy at the bottom of the stairs. One after another, he picked up nails and dropped them between the wall and the open stair well. He worked at emptying that bucket of nails as he did his toy box: One toy at a time, dropped outside the box for me to pick up. By fall, the project was done and the cleaning up began. We moved the old table. I swept, shoveled and scooped up an array of nails, nuts and bolts, screws and more nails. It took a couple hours to clean up everything he had carefully dropped over the summer.
During our current house remodeling project, I remembered the nails and told that child, now a college student about the summer he deposited nails, one at a time on the floor.
He laughed, “so that’s why I spent my summer with TMI picking up nails: Pay-back time.”
It took me a moment to remember.
When he was 14, he went with Teen Missions International to Australia to help build a church camp. TMI emphasizes no waste. They insist that the teens pick up and safely put away all tools and nails. Our former nail dropper was handed a coffee can, “Make sure that no nails are left on the ground anywhere around the work site or on the trail.”
One evening he handed the bucket of nails to the leader. The man warned him, “if you walk down that trail and find a single nail, you have the job for the rest of the summer.”
A confident 14-year-old shrugged, “I got’em all.” His leader scrounged the trail and found a rusty, old nail under the leaves. A half a world away and a dozen years later, payback time hit. Every afternoon he picked up nails, one at a time, just like he had dropped them many summers before.

About jottingjoan

retired former newspaper writer. Many children and grandchildren. One husband.
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