Rust is special
There is something about rust that I like. Rusty nails. Rusty hinges. Rusty barbed wire. A feel about it, I mean. It doesn’t speak very well of me, I know, because rust means ruin. Many people pride themselves on never letting their tools rest.
I heard a ship’s captain give a fine lecture to a sailor about the proper care of tools. We were in the bowels of a destroyer and the captain was making an inspection. He had found some tools scattered in a careless manner.
“It hurts me inside,” my little captain said, “to see these tools neglected.” He went on in a quiet, effective way to describe a deep feeling for tools – a feeling he said he had had since childhood. I knew what he meant. I understood the pride he felt about caring for his tools.
Years later I heard a barber express the same thing while talking about his straight-razors. He sounded like an artist as he spoke of the way he honed his razors and how he felt about them as he pulled a newly honed razor over his wet thumbnail, testing the sharp edge.
My Uncle Ben was like that about his carpenter tools. And Mama and Grandpa Caldwell were that way also. As a little girl, Mama used to sneak Grandpa’s handsaw out of his tool box and use it. But no matter how carefully she replaced it, he always knew that somebody had used the saw.
I understood this relationship of a man to tools and it is a sort of sacred thing, and it should be because the story of man rests to a great extent upon tools. It is proper that a man should feel a special affection toward them, and there is something beautiful in seeing a real mechanic taking care of his wrenches. Still, I like rust.
I like to find an old rusted bucket. An old rusted hoe with the handle rotted out. Chains, pieces of harnesses, singletrees, plows.
These things speak to me in much the same way. I suspect that clean, oiled, rust-free tools speak to craftsmen and that finely honed, blue-steeled razors speak to barbers. Rust is a testimony of the past.
It says that somebody has lived, has worked, has walked in the plowed ground, has stretched wire on perishable posts, to enclose pastures.
It says that man goes away, that the tools that have sustained him – the nails that have marked his brief stay – are temporary too, and must finally return to old earth. Rust is part of the story of our lives.