“What my father taught me using nails”

“What my father taught me using nails”

The small Kansas town where I grew up had one of those old-timey hardware stores – like you might see in an episode of “Little House On The Prairie.”  It was dark and crowded, and it had wooden floors that creaked and groaned when you walked across them.  Every part of the store – except the merchandise – showed wear from generations of use.  The store was cool and drafty in the winter, warm and stagnant in the summer.

It sold nails in bulk from hand-made wooden bins.  You could buy bulk rope by the foot, bulk kerosene by the gallon, or bulk burlap by the yard.  Except for Saturdays, it was rare to have more than one customer in the store at a time, so the owner would usually give his personal attention to everyone who came in.  It was everything that today’s big box home improvement stores are not.  Most people today would probably hate that store.

I LOVED that store.  Coming from a tiny economically depressed rural community like I did, a trip to the hardware store was for me like a trip to Disneyland – untold adventure always awaited through the door.

When I was about 15, my dad and I were building a shed together.  We were almost done when we ran out of nails.  So my dad dispatched me to the hardware store: “Sixteen penny.  We only need 12 more to finish up,” he told me.  I listened very carefully, determined to prove to him I could handle this kind of man’s work.

I walked to the hardware store and the owner came to greet me at the door as usual.  “What can I help you with today?” he asked cordially.  

“I need 12 sixteen-penny nails” I said confidently.  

“Twelve?” he asked quizzically.  “Yup.” I replied, slightly less sure.

He motioned to the wooden bins of nails and said “Help yourself.”  So I headed over to the bins, counted out twelve nails, and took them to the counter.

He slowly peered up over his glasses at me, waved the back of his hand dismissively at me and said, “No charge.”  Then he turned his back to me and looked down at some papers as though he had something more important to do.

When I got back home, my dad asked me “How much was it?” like he always did.  We watched every penny in my family.  I said proudly “No charge!” hoping he would be impressed with my superior business skills.  I held out my hand with the twelve nails for him to see.

At first my dad had a blank expression on his face like he was confused.  Then he looked at the floor and began rubbing his forehead.

After a long while he looked back up at me and said “OK – here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to go BACK to the hardware store.  Buy a pound of nails.  Then COUNT OUT twelve of them and put them back in the bin.”

As I soon learned, those twelve nails were worth about five cents total – maybe less.  Only a fool would try to buy 12 nails individually.  It was like asking the grocery store to buy 1 egg.

I learned some valuable things from my dad that day:

  1. He loved me, even when I did silly things that might have embarrassed him.
  2. It is very important to always be fair with people.  The amount of money involved is not important.  There is no amount of monetary gain worth compromising one’s integrity.  My dad was the kind of guy who wouldn’t sell his integrity for millions of dollars – certainly not for a nickel’s worth of nails.
  3. God is always watching – He expects us to do the right thing even when we think nobody else cares or that we could get away with something without anybody knowing.
  4. There are teachable moments around us everywhere, even in ordinary circumstances.
  5. Patience IS a virtue.

My dad left big shoes to fill.  I often wonder how the lessons he taught me about honesty, integrity, and being a man of character will get passed down to the next generation.  What if my suburban kids and I never build a shed together?  What if their idea of a “hardware store” is some ubiquitous box that sells electronic gadgets or jewelry accessories?

Hey – look Dad – you’re still teaching!  Happy Father’s Day – shine on.

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.” Psalm 103:13 (ESV)


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