Note: for clarity, I am going to ignore the questions such as where the coal, wood, and paper came from; how Karl obtained wire steel stock; etc.

“Today’s the day,” said Karl.

Gunnar looked up, surprised. He was busy rearranging his collection of animal bones, this time from the largest to the smallest. Sometimes he picked the prettiest one, sometimes the most bad-ass one (a broken skull of a fox), then arranged them in the badassery order. Strangely, the older he got, the less he enjoyed the game. Perhaps he just needed more bones. “The day?”

“The day you start working at the forge.”

Gunnar jumped up to his feet, dropping the large bone he was holding. It hit the skull, breaking it further, but the boy didn’t care. “I…will work at the forge? All on my own?”

 

Kids’ toys – Árbærsjafn open air museum, Reykjavík

 

His father laughed. “No, Gunnar, you can’t work at the forge all on your own. You need a helper. Or, in this case, I need a helper. That will be you.”

The boy was overjoyed. He watched his father at work since the forge was built a year before. Karl was self-taught, or more precisely still self-teaching, explaining to Gunnar over and over again over the noise of the hammer and the roar of the fire that the most important thing about forging was practice, practice, practice. To Gunnar’s dismay, Karl had never made a sword. Yet. “Will I make swords?”

Karl emitted a sound somewhere between a sneeze and a chuckle. “Come, boy.”

Gunnar’s head was already filled with the images of himself making a huuuuuuge sword. One that would slay enemies in half before even touching them. So what that in the twentieth century nobody really needed swords? Gunnar wanted one. He could already see himself expertly handling the weapon. He ignored his mother raising her eyes from the shirt she was mending, then shaking her head. What did mother know about swords? Nothing, that’s what.

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I’ve got some random memories from my childhood. Super-explosive diarrhea somewhere around the age of six (Sorry! I can’t help that this is my earliest memory! I do hope it’s not some sort of prediction for quality of my writing…). My parents fighting when I was around eight. Having seen a children’s movie called “Electronic Grannies”, where an electronic granny went rogue after rain caused her Z80 processor to crash, then getting a nosebleed out of fear as I was staying with my granny that night. But the earliest happy memories I have all involve myself sitting by a bonfire and being happy.

Back in the 80s, when Poland was still waist deep in Communism, you could buy cheap holidays via your work. The choice was limited, but for that price nobody really cared much (also it’s not like you could go anywhere else, as in Communism for some reason each company had their own holiday “resorts”). Every time we went the fun started with what was called, roughly translated, “an evening to meet each other”. This always involved two things. Tons of alcohol, which I didn’t partake in, and a bonfire. Other kids ran around, meeting each other. Someone would inevitably play guitar. I would sit in one spot, staring into the fire, feeling happy. My mom and stepfather were very pleased, because I caused absolutely no trouble. I’d be allowed to stay up as long as I wanted unless the fire went out first.

This never changed. I spent the New Year’s Eve ignoring the explosions, staring into the fire (I have my own woodburner these days! No need to meet anybody!), and feeling happy.

When I was looking for a new career after a burnout (hoho) ended the 14 years of my work as a graphic designer, I was asked to list 15 things that made me happiest, related to work or not. First eight or nine were easy, but then I ran out and started writing about things that made me happy in general. One of them was, of course, fire. I apologised to the coach, saying I simply couldn’t come up with anything more. She told me everything was important. A few weeks later I found out that blacksmiths still existed, they worked and made a living, and that I might be able to take a blacksmithing course. Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Forging ticked almost all of the boxes – I would create tangible products that would last a long time; I would work on my own and be able to point at something and say “I made this”; I would be working physically; but most of all, I’d get to play with fire all day and possibly even make money out of it.

This happened.

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