Ricky’s back yard is a small cage; the swimming pool takes up most of the space, leaving just enough room for a few chairs and his dad’s bar-b-que. My back yard is not only longer and wider but there is no fence between the neighbors on each side. On one side an older couple without kids and without a use for their backyard lives. On the other side of my backyard Justin, an only child, lives with his parents who are very busy and also have no use for their back yard. When it becomes necessary we claim all three backyards and have a massive field suitable for many uses right behind my house. Holes have been dug. Forts have been built. Tree houses have been started.
My father has a mantra he likes to share when asked about his apparent success in the construction business, he says, “first materials, then equipment, and then men.” When we have a project we always have the labor from the first day of work, we never have the proper materials, and we have been know to use rocks to hammer nails. Today we have three boards, new two by fours replaced two old two-by-fours during a back fence repair my father conducted a couple years ago – they have been lying beside the house for two years. The third two by four had been nailed to a couple of branches of the fruitless mulberry tree at the corner of our back yard – left from a previous attempt at constructing a tree house. We were much younger last summer when that attempt was made and instead of rocks, this summer, we have captured a hammer! We also have a hand saw which when we drag it across one of the old Douglas fir two-by-fours produces very impressive scratches. We have decided to keep the two-by-fours at their present length and adjust the plans for the tree house accordingly (our plans consist of looking up into the fruitless mulberry tree and finding the three branches we want to nail our floor joists to).
All carpentry projects begin the same way. We collect and straighten nails. The best source of nails is old boards. There is a very easy way to remove nails from old boards my father showed me; first you hit the points of the nails from the back side, then slip the claw end of a hammer onto the nail shaft below the nail’s head, and then you push the hammer sideways – the nail will pull out almost an inch but you have just put a bend in your nail that will never straighten out! Without the very effective sideways hammer push as an option we have found the one person holds the board and the other jumps on the hammer option to be an occasional success!
“Hit the handle against the concrete,” I instruct Ricky. He slams the hammer against the carport floor and the hammerhead tightens back up onto the handle.
“If we hammer a couple of nails into the top it might keep the head from coming off,” Ricky suggests after the third reattachment.
“What do we hammer the nails in with?” I ask but we both know the answer. As Ricky goes off to find a nice rock to hammer with I straighten out a few short nails to tighten our hammers head’s grip on its handle with.
With the hammer repaired Ricky asks, “ how many more do you think we will need?”
I count the nails we have that are long enough to go through the two by fours and still have enough length to connect securely to the tree branches, “at least four more.”
Ricky looks over our stock, “We’ll need to go on a hunt.” A hunt means a walk down the banks of the creek. We take the hammer.
The creek is running high today. The water, moving fast enough to create ripples, covers the lower paths. The upper paths are still accessible but a little muddy. It’s the middle of the summer and there hasn’t been any rain for a long time; it has something to do with farmers. We separate at the first bridge and each search a side of the creek for suitable nail infested debris. Ricky uses a long thin branch to snag a piece of plywood out of the water.
“Hammer!” Ricky yells across the water. I toss it across the creek, it sails end over end and buries itself ten feet up the bank and about ten feet in front of Ricky. He grabs it up and sets to work claiming a couple of nails.