This post was written by my husband, Dennis Ferrier.
Not long ago, I came across a box full of railroad nails. Railroad nails are impressive — They’re big and sharp and don’t bend easily. In the old days, they’d stamp the year each nail was made on the head so the railroad company would know when a crosstie was installed in the track.
I knew immediately which nail I was looking for and quickly found it. I actually made a ‘Eureka!’ sound in that small Tennessee gift shop on the edge of the Big South Fork. It was a nail with ‘1935’ stamped on its head.
1935 was the year my dad was born. 2016 is the year my dad died. I wanted that nail because it reminded me of us, but not because of the railroad. No. It was the nail itself.
My dad was a 50s dad who showed his affection by putting me in a headlock. Like a lot of 50s dads, my dad was hard on me. He taught me not to cry, to be brave and proud, to compete, and to never, ever quit. Lessons like that are sharp and often hurt and you often don’t really feel their value until much later. At the time, all you feel is the nail being driven into you.
My dad never let me win. Never. And so when I finally beat him in ping-pong at the age of 17, it was a big deal. It was an accomplishment — a lesson in fighting, training, and working toward a goal. There was nothing mamby-pamby about it and there were no smiles after my victory. The match was fierce and unfriendly and awesome. Today, I am not that kind of dad. I don’t want to be. But I’m glad my dad was like that.
He’s gone now, and there no more headlocks, no more mock threats, but I am so glad I can still feel that nail. I can feel its pain, but it’s no longer from hard lessons. It no longer wounds my pride and it no longer infuriates me. That nail is driven into my heart. I can feel it if I move a certain way and a memory slips in. I’m glad it’s there. I’m grateful for my father’s gift.
It still hurts.