Blacksmiths and Checkers

an image of a game of checkers

Pass It On is a new, bi-weekly peek inside the heart and mind of Francis Pass…

Hello there. I’ve been feeling a might bit nostalgic as of late, so I thought I’d revisit a story I first shared back in 2019. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by. -Francis Pass


Click the play button to listen to Francis Pass tell this story.

My Papa Tom was more than just your average blacksmith. He was a magnificent blacksmith.

Papa Tom was a big man, six-foot somethin’. He had a full head of gray hair that flopped over to the side. And that sidekick of his… Sivy. Yeah. Johnny Sivy. He must’a hit his fingers lots of times, because they were flatter than a pancake. His thumbs were ginormous. Well, to a child anyway. He used to roll his own cigarettes, too… a dying art that ol’ Sivy had mastered. Whenever they’d take a break, Sivy would cross his super-skinny legs and smoke his cigarette. I’ll never forget him.

Papa Tom’s shop had a great big firepit with one of those fancy billows. Of course, he had all the other blacksmithing tools you’d expect… like wood and metal lathes, and various size anvils… they looked just like the ones that ol’ roadrunner would always drop on that coyote.

Horseshoes were Papa Tom’s specialty. But he could make or fix just about anything.

I’d watch in awe as farmer after farmer brought in broken scythes, or even plows that needed fixin’. It was beyond my comprehension how Papa Tom repaired the points of those plows. I don’t recall that he ever had a welder. He’d get that metal so daggum hot, and then he’d work his magic.

See, back then, if somethin’ broke, you didn’t go buy a new one… you fixed the one you had.

I loved visiting his shop down by the creek there in Dongola. Sometimes he’d send me to the back and say, “Now, junior, I want you to make me some mower handles.” I wasn’t even ten years old.

Yes, I learned how to make those handles… but Papa Tom also taught me a little something about tradesmanship.

I’d leave his shop and book it over to a loading area by the Illinois Central Railroad. There was a building back there where old timers would gather to play checkers. I liked to stop in to see how the game was going.

A potbelly stove kept the place warm as they smoked, chewed, and played checkers all the time… well, except on Sundays, of course. Those fellas always had something to say to me. For whatever reason, I found talking to adults to be rather enjoyable. But they hardly ever called me Francis. Instead, those old men would call me J.R. I liked that better than junior. Even though I was just shy of ten years old, they made me feel like I was one of the guys.

They’d play those daggum checkers for hours upon end. I’d sit and listen as they swapped stories… fascinated by the comradery and tall tales they tried to get past one another.

I suppose that’s where I learned to enjoy conversation, too.


Y’know, helping my Papa Tom in his shop and watching old men play checkers may not seem like much… but they shaped the person I am today.

It’s not about the destination. It’s about the people you meet and what you learn along the way.

an image of a game of checkers

What about you?

Who and what are the major influences in your life?

How have they helped to shape you?

More importantly, how are you helping to shape the lives of the people you know?

Because, whether you realize it or not… someone’s always watching… and listening… and learning… from you.

Thanks for readin’…

Francis Pass.

P.S. Life is a journey where you get to be the captain. Be well. Stay well.

an image of a ship steering wheel