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Beat up

08/15/2012 @ 7:47am

Sometimes you appreciate things more after they’re a little beat up.

I’m not sure that’s true, but I certainly hope it is – it’s about the only thing I have going for me.

About eight years ago I was building a pergola, sort of a stand-alone covered patio, for my oldest daughter to get married in.  I was basically designing it as I built it – the sort of thing you do when you know what you want, you’re just not quite sure how to get there.

I decided the sides and top should be framed by an arch, but the problem is that I couldn’t build one.  I’m sure any real carpenter could; it’s probably the sort of thing they cover in the first three months of carpenter school.  I turned a sizeable pile of 2 x 6’s into firewood before I gave up.  Then I stumbled on the idea of a Roman arch.

Okay, it wasn’t my idea – they’ve been in use for a couple of thousand years – in fact, I once walked across a bridge in France that was two thousand years old and it seemed pretty darn solid.  What’s interesting is that it’s not complicated – just a couple of curved pieces with a keystone between them.   

What’s even more interesting is that the more pressure you put on it, the stronger it becomes.

I remember I wrote about it then, because it seemed like a good metaphor for a wedding.  The story came back into my mind because I just noticed that after eight years the arch is looking a little beat up – it needs to be scraped and painted - and my parents are about to celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary.  

They’re a little beat up, too.  You don’t make a living for half a century or more on the edge of the prairie without getting a few scars.  They’re starting to slow down a little.  Dad did buy a backhoe the year he turned eighty, but he doesn’t work much more than half time with it now and Mom stopped volunteering at the local elementary school when her back got bad enough that she couldn’t pull little kids onto her lap and teach them to read.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of – a lot of people start easing into retirement by the time they reach their mid-eighties.

It’s hard to imagine the pressure they’ve endured.  My oldest sister got polio early in their marriage and spent some time at the Sister Kenny Institute, a long day’s drive away.  They were only allowed to visit on weekends.  One of my grandfathers would fill their tank with gas and the other would slip them five bucks for their meals.  To get to the ward where my sister was they had to walk through a room the size of a gymnasium filled with iron lungs.  That was about six decades ago, but when they tell the story, you can see in their eyes that the sound of a room full of iron lungs is still very fresh in their ears.  

That was just the beginning.  There was the Fifties, when a small farm on the prairie simply couldn’t make much money, the hurly burly of the Sixties when my sisters and I were growing up and Mom went back to college to become the teacher she was meant to be…the decades followed, one after another, each with its own pressure, each leaving its own mark.  Through it all, through all the pressure, the keystone held and nothing collapsed.

Time passes and you get a little beat up.  That’s just the way the world is.  Our society has a tendency to think that a few scrapes and scars diminish your value and it’s easy to throw away something that might not be perfect. Sometimes it takes time and pressure to reveal the strength and endurance that make for a more permanent beauty.

That’s what I think, anyway.

Copyright 2011 Brent Olson

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