What My Mother Taught Me
Strength and Determination of a Female Ferrier
"Ping - Ping - Ping", with a heavy baby sledge hammer in hand, my mother beats the cherry-red horseshoe into the correct shape and size until it loses its glow. "Chich" is the sound of the shoe being thrust back into the glowing coal embers of the forge, heating it up to a warm glow, for another round of hammering. Once my mother is satisfied with her customization of the horseshoe, she plunges it into a metal pail at her feet that is filled with water: "Sssssss" the metal violently hisses as a thick blanket of steam quickly rises up, engulfing my mother, to where I can barely make out the image of her wearing jeans, a worn out T-Shirt, and heavy leather apron; from my vantage point just a few feet away, as I play with one of the farm's numerous dogs.
When I was growing up, my mother didn't have a conventional job nor was she the typical stay-at-home mother. Seeing her dirty, sweaty, and tired after a days worth of carrying around a one-hundred-twenty-five pound anvil, swinging a three or five pound hammer (Baby Beater), and wrestling horses' hooves into the correct position, was a common sight. In contrast I never witnessed my father worn out and tired after an honest day's work, hell I never witnessed him working; period! The strength and determination, or as my mother likes to call it, "True-Grit" that I witnessed as a child coming from my mother, didn't fully register with me, of how remarkable and significant her actions as a role model for a son were. As a kid I always thought my mom's job was cool, and bragged to people about it; however, it wasn't until I was an adult that I truly understood and appreciated what she had taught me by her example.
When I accompanied my mother on her horse-shoeing jobs, fun was always waiting for me on every farm we visited. There’s something about the open ruggedness of a farm that was perfect for an inquisitive child, like myself. The many animals to see and people to meet, interested me immensely; but more than those things, I loved watching my mother do her craft.
My mother’s love for horses led her to pursue this unique, and back in the 80s, an unusual job for a woman; hell it still just might be. Historically, blacksmithing has been a man’s world. The heavy tools and equipment, not to mention the strong animals that need to be commanded, make the job of a Ferrier a very physically laborious one. One that my mother met head on, while bringing a sense of compassion and admiration for the animals she worked with; something that was sorely missing in her male counterparts.
The love and respect she showed the horses was returned in kind; she was a natural-born horse whisperer, they willingly raised their hoofs and welcomed my mother’s touch and presence. I could also sense how the customers where in awe of my mother and how easy she made handling a six to eight-hundred pound animal look. Looking back on those interactions with her customers and now possessing a mature mind, I can understand it was pride in her that I was feeling; which compelled me subconsciously to always want to tag-along.
Standing a mere 5 feet 2 inches and weighing just over one-hundred pounds, my mother’s stature was not booming and compared to the size of the men who tackled her trade as well as the animals she worked with, it would seem at first glance there was no way she'd be physically capable of accomplishing such work. The determination and strength she possessed in her small frame, is something that rubbed off on me. I contribute my ability to tackle physical jobs independently, to witnessing my mother all those years ago.
My mother not only had a unique job, she was a single mother with three children; two girls, and me (the oldest); a boy. If her physically demanding job of making horseshoes, and tending to horses' hooves wasn't tough enough, the fact she had three kids all under the age of 6 didn't make life any easier for her. I remember her struggling to find adequate daycare for the three of us so she could attend class and learn how to become a Ferrier. There were many days we were forced to tag-along to class with her; it was a huge warehouse full of coal furnaces and freezers. The freezers contained the horse hooves for the students to practice on and the furnaces were for heating up the metal bars that would be turned into horseshoes. I would love to look in the freezers and watch, but I don't think kids were appreciated out in the main shop or lab area of class. Most days my sisters and I sat in a lounge eating candy and watching TV, waiting for our mother to finish class.
As a single mother, she not only had the weight of a heavy anvil to lug around, she also had the enormous responsibility of being both a mother and father to three children, since our father was mostly absent in our upbringing.
I didn't make being a dual parent very easy for my mom most of the time. As a rambunctious and opinioned young boy my mother had to put a lot of effort into instilling gentlemanly qualities in me. I recall my mother tirelessly insisting that I open doors, say, "please, thank you, and you're welcome". I would always argue with my mother's logic; which I'm sure tried her patients constantly. I was also somewhat of an explorer, and any chance I got I would wander off into far away neighborhoods or construction sites to play with other kids or the construction equipment. I would load up and wagon with food and toys, and have my younger sister pull me and our stuff during our journeys. The police brought us home on several occasions. One year I took all our Christmas ornaments from the basement and smashed them in our driveway, pretending that each one was a little hand-grenade. My mother once sent me to my room to clean it, I had instead thrown all my clothes and toys out the window into the alley. My mother thinking I did an amazing job rewarded me with a treat; only to find later in the evening all the stuff I'd thrown outside.
I was a handful, to say the least. My turbulence, in addition to the hard work and life struggles my mother faced were definitely not easy for her; however, I never witnessed my mother overwhelmed or at her wits-end, when it came to anything in life. My mother was no push-over and could be rather strict and demanding especially when I was wising off or not doing what I was supposed to, but she was never an angry or mean spirited woman. My mother also never possessed a depressed attitude or felt like life gave her a bad hand or unfair shake. No matter the circumstances, she always has had a positive outlook on life; even in the face of adversity.
Throughout her life, my mother's strength and determination always shown through, and now as an adult I can admit it was an impressive site to witness. When I was young I couldn't appreciate the important life lessons my mother was teaching me, a young boy with an abusive and absent father, that needed extra parental attention to ensure I'd grow up responsible and right. My mother has always been the consummate teacher and mentor, not only to her own kids, but she would spend many career days at the local schools showing children how strong and capable a woman can be.
I took a lot of what my mother did and her character for granted as a young boy. I misbehaved and pressed the limits of her patience constantly, never really returning the favor of her mentoring or truly appreciating the parent and person she was. My never though, never showed resentment or a disappointment in me that had her refuse her motherly responsibilities, she felt she owed me. Throughout all my difficultness, my mother always made me feel loved and important. I can't say I always did the same as a confused young man. When I left home at 18 to attend college and then later join the United States Navy, I never imagined that I'd become an adult man, that would consider his mother more than a parent; but a friend and confidant.
Throughout the tests and trying times of my adult life, my mother has always been a phone call away, to lend an ear, to be an excited grandmother for the birth of my son, to be a wise-friend and console me during a divorce. My mother through thick and thin, has just always been there. This is exactly what and who she was when I was a young boy, when I was a young adult finding my way around the world, and now as a middle-aged man; my mother is always there, with a motivated attitude; sharing the strength and determination that she possesses so much of.
Many may feel a child needs both parents, I'd usually agree with that sentiment. However, if a person only gets to have one parent, as so many do these days, if that parent is anything like my mother I'd argue every time that the child will grow to be healthy, happy, responsible and a caring adult. This is the outcome with my sisters and me, and it's all because of the strength and determination my mother had to be a Ferrier, a father, and a mother. I couldn't ask for a better parent and now adult friend. My mother has shown me how to be an open-minded, pragmatic, and stoic adult. I'm thankful everyday for the work and effort she put into being a mother knowing she had to take on three roles: (1) bread winner, (2) father, and (3) mother. She did not fail at any of them.
My mother has taught me how to deal with adversity and never let life drag me too far down or let anything get me too depressed; even when it's a very trying experience. I'm grateful my mother never sheltered me from the world and life's harsh realities, but rather guided me back to the path of success when I stumbled or strayed due to things bringing me down. My mother has always been my biggest motivator and admirer.
Now a grandmother to over 10 children, she has created, "Kids Club" where she teaches the kids all kinds of skills and crafts, as well as taking them out into the world to explore nature.
My mother may have drawn a short straw in life; however, she never let that bring her down and she has actually gone on to ensure that her children and grandchildren grow up into a happier and better world and life than the one she experienced and grew up in. I couldn't be more proud to be the son of such a women. I am the man I am because of her. I'd never been able to hack college, or a twenty-four year career in the Navy if I had not learned discipline through my mother's strength and determination.