"Under the spreading chestnut tree|
The village smithy stands
A great and mighty man is he
With large and sinewy hands"
There was a village blacksmith in the little town where I was reared. There were some differences though. The spreading tree was an elm and the blacksmith was a rather small, wizened man named Simon.
The blacksmith shop was one of the gathering places for the spit-and-whittle club on sunny afternoons. Seated on sawed-off tree trunks, they whittled and spit and discussed everything from the weather to the color of Grandma Jonesí underthings hanging on the line across the way.
Usually one of the crowd was Jesse. He was a gentle giant of a man whose brain had been scrambled by nature and a childhood disease. Jesse had poor eyesight and a burning curiosity to see what things looked like up close. He would stop in the road and pick up a strange pebble and examine it from every angle. Sometimes he would drop it in the pocket of his dirty overalls for another look-see later. He would come across a bug or a butterfly and stoop to watch it intently until he saw everything there was to see about it.
I rode along in the wagon with Grandpa one day as he took his team of plow horses down to be shod. Simon would trim a hoof carefully and then select a steel shoe from his huge supply. After carefully measuring on the horse's hoof, he would insert the shoe into his forge and crank the blower to start up the coal fire to heat the shoe so that he could bend it to fit properly. Once he was satisfied that the shoe was correct, he tossed it with the tongs onto the ground beside the forge to cool.
Jesse was somewhat late in arriving that day. The first thing he spied was the hot horseshoe lying by the forge. Jesse bent to examine it and finally reached to pick it up, only to drop it quickly. As he danced around, blowing on his fingers, one of the boys asked, "What's the matter, Jesse, that horseshoe too hot?" Jesse smiled and replied, "No, it just don't take me long to look at a horseshoe."
In some ways, Jesse wasn't so dumb.