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Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Legacy of A. Smith


Allen Smith, a farrier from Marion, Massachusetts died this afternoon. His friends will want to know, so I am posting the sad news here. He died at his home near Buzzards Bay.

Because he was such a private man, I'll leave it there. Most of us didn't even know he was sick until very recently. Those who know him understand.

But for those who didn't know him: Allen Smith was always a bit amused and intrigued by the ironic fact that his trade matched his name. He was "A Smith". And he was proud of it.

Back in the days when farriers were called horseshoers and drove trucks with smokestacksfor their coal forges sticking up into the air, Allen had the word "horseshoer" written in big letters on the side of the wooden "cap" on his truck.

I remember one night at a Southern New England Farriers Association meeting, someone asked him why he had the word painted so large, instead of his name. Allen didn't hesitate for a second. He answered that you could read it from a mile away and wherever he went, people would walk by his truck and make a comment or tell a story about how their grandfathers had shod horses, or something they remembered from a blacksmith shop in their towns growing up. 

In this way, Allen was a catalyst. He worked that same logic (or was it magic?) in many ways in his many roles in the farrier world, from shoeing my old horse Jasper (with concave, of course, that he imported as bar stock from England) on an island enclave off Cape Cod that he had to sail his boat to, to being the president (more than once) and peacemaker (perpetually) of the American Farrier's Association. He showed up at my house for a meeting one night on his motorcycle...but still wearing his trademark bow tie (from his "part-time" job as a professor of library science) under his leather jacket.

Allen may have wanted to leave this world privately, but it would be important to remember how strongly he believed that the proud traditions of farriery and smithing should be honored as long as any one of us remembers what a real blacksmith shop looked and smelled and sounded like. May our eyes and noses and ears never forget that combination.

Back in 1989, Allen sent me a poem written by the highly-regarded poet Edward Kleinschmidt called "Katzenjammer", in which the poet explained in lovely verbiage that in spite of the word "schmidt" in his last name, he was certainly not a smith, and that all the real smiths were dead anyway.

Allen objected. And wrote this poetic answer to Kleinschmidt: 

Smith y Gwf

And while you write, a smith
Tends fire, takes heat, and turns a shoe
To burn the balanced coffin horn
Among the bones of the limb,
Pacing the day, breaking steel
Across the anvil devil,
In back of behind.

--A. Smith

I believe there always be A. Smith among us, wherever horses are shod.