Editor’s note: As we enter another season and the leaves begin to fall, let us take a moment to reflect on this thoughtful, timely article by Larry Dablemont. (Pictures taken in Colorado by one of our Great Books students.)

Larry Dablemont: Nails Provide Link to Strong Generation
Sunday 4 June 2006 – Globe columnist

I mentioned that I have a hard time throwing anything away. Much of my basement is filled with old things, like an electric typewriter, old tools, old cameras, old magazines, old clothes, old fishing and hunting gear, and a coffee can filled with old rusty nails. I cannot throw it all into some landfill, perhaps because my memory goes back to the 1950s when I was a boy.

I was born at the end of an era when items of daily life were treasured, taken care of, adapted, modified and reused. My grandfathers told of times when men lived with so little, and struggled so much, and I somehow could always feel the days they spoke of, perhaps because they were so close. Many of us here in the Ozarks descend from such poverty. My grandparents on both sides were poor. They raised families in a place and time where they had almost nothing. Their children wore hand-me down ragged clothes, went without shoes, and scraped up meals from what they could catch or kill, grow or raise.

You worked hard when you were just a child, and grew strong from it. Nothing was easy, little things were treasured. That was only years ago, so close to today’s generation we can still hear their voices and see the products of their lives, modest as they were. My grandpa would be astonished to know that little artifacts he owned, worth so little in his time, would bring so much money today, his handmade paddles, the old brass fishing reel, his knife and razor. His old tools, uniquely his own, made so by little adaptations he made to them, are things of history. He lived by reusing and recycling. Grandpa built a small cabin for his family to live in by using nails he pulled and restraightened from an old fallen-down house and barn.

Today, the modest belongings of our ancestors are treasures sought out in antique stores by a generation which throws away everything else. We have become an extravagant, wasteful, unappreciative generation of people. The things we use in our daily lives are made to be thrown away, or devalued quickly. Six years ago my computer cost so much I had to eat baloney sandwiches for months just to pay for it. Today it is worth nothing.

In 1999, a pickup I bought lost $5,000 in value after one week of use. In 20 years, my grandpa didn’t make that much. But I was one of the generation of which parents so often said, “My kids are going to have better. I want them to have what I could not have!” Our generation was spoiled and pampered, brought into the push-button age, and taught to treasure so little. We have misplaced values. When I became a young man, I shaved with throw-away razors, and watched modern day landfills being made as I still had a strong memory of my grandmother searching through an old city dump looking for canning jars which she might use for her garden produce, and maybe taking home an old dress she came across while doing it.

I watched jet planes soar overhead, and hunted squirrels along an old wooded lane where my dad and uncle had rode to town in a wagon and team of horses. My children cannot comprehend the awe of this. For perhaps a thousand years, and more, one generation lived in the exact footsteps of the one before and the one before and the one before. For an endless procession of time, you dressed and ate and lived and learned as your grandfathers before you. Progress was so slow it came like the growing of the grass.

Today, the change is so rapid, so phenomenal, it can’t be comprehended. We go at the speed of sound. All wild creatures are exactly what their ancestors were one thousand years ago, but a man today is nothing like his predecessors. He is a different creature entirely. In his rapid ascent, modern man sees himself, as becoming close to the God which created him, in terms of intelligence and importance.

But the earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and tornadoes which show how small and insignificant we are surely lie at the feet of He who made the mountains and the oceans. Great natural tragedies expose our weakness, which we fail to recognize. Man can make computers, but he cannot make the air, the water and the land.

Every computer in the world, every machine in the world, every refrigerator and light and auto in the world could stop working and never work again. It comes down to knowing that men can make a gold watch, but men cannot make gold.

We are wasteful of the resources we have been given, but we seem willing to sacrifice those resources and the earth itself merely to sustain what we have created. Because I cannot see the future, I don’t know what is coming, but I have an idea of what is ahead because I can see the past so clearly.


Should man indeed destroy himself, he will not do it by cutting off his own head, he will do it by cutting off the broad, strong limb he sits on, the lifeline of water, air, soil, timber, oil and minerals which this smarter, greater, generation must have to survive. Our ancestors had little, but they never lived on a weak limb.

The limb we live on is long and weak, and it gets longer and weaker. Our descendants will create great computers, but they will not be able to restraighten nails and grow their own food, and today’s landfills have no jars which can be used for canning. I guess someone like me is a little goofy for not being able to throw away his old boots. No joke, I have a can filled with rusty bent nails and a whole shelf full of canning jars. I know that there are people who live very well in crowded city suburbs who laugh at people like me, and wonder why I have been so content to do without so much of what they have.

But out here on this little wooded ridge, I can survive and do just fine if tomorrow I have to live with no electricity, no gasoline, and no money. I like that independence. It links me to my grandpa, and to a stronger, abler generation of people than the world will ever know again.