February 4, 2020

After 59 years, the anvil challenge is back

              Rummaging in the barn, I stared at a hunk of rusty steel.  I hadn’t thought about that anvil for 20 years.  Reaching down, I grabbed ahold to lift it up onto a bench.
              Whoa, that thing was heavy. 
               Maybe it was heavier than in the summer of 1961.
               When I was 12, I worked for Pope’s Texaco on U.S. 301 North, across from the Jesup City Cemetery.  For my 50th birthday, Mother gave me a restored 1948-era Texaco pump and my starched filling-station uniform, with my name stitched in red above the pocket of the olive-drab shirt.  Even though I walk past the vintage pump in the hallway of my office, I hadn’t thought about the anvil in a long time.  The two are related.
               Earning a quarter an hour, I wasn’t getting rich working for W.O. and Cora Pope.  But the wealth of business-sense knowledge and confidence that I gained that summer can’t be measured in money.  Here’s what that hunk of steel had to do with my education.
               Next door to Pope’s was Georgia Memorials, which sold granite graveyard monuments.  Elbert County stone was trucked in to be sandblasted with inscriptions and installed across Southeast Georgia.  The company also made concrete burial vaults.  It was a good funeral-home sideline for Big Dink and his partner, Bob Harrison.
                When I wasn’t waiting on customers, cleaning bathrooms, changing tires, sweeping the concrete or washing cars, I’d walk over to the monument-vault shop to visit with Charles Corbett, ace sandblaster and grave digger.  As I was talking to him, I spied an anvil and tried to pick it up.  Seeing my neck veins bulge, Charles chuckled.
              Whoa, that thing was heavy.
              And there a challenge was born. Charles had every right to laugh. I was a wormy-looking kid, with the physique of a skinny pencil.  But I was determined to hoist that thing over my head. A chorus of disbelievers jeered, “Nooooooo way!”
               My goal did seem ridiculous.  After all, I could barely slide the anvil around in the dirt.  Nonetheless, I had two believers to support my quest.  One person gave me hope.  Another gave me a way.

1.     My mother had repeatedly told me the mustard-seed story.  She’d open her Bible and read Matthew 17:20 : “I tell you the truth, if you have the faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”
2.     Earl Thornton, my gas-station buddy, was a believer, too.  Earl convinced me that if I worked hard enough—even with muscles as tiny as a mustard seed—I could pick up that “mountain” of steel.  With two empty paint cans, a piece of galvanized water pipe and cement from the vault plant, Earl made a set of barbells.  All summer, I pumped that homemade concrete “iron.”  Before I went back to school, Earl bet Charles that I could lift the anvil over my head. This time, Earl did the laughing as I pumped the metal skyward not once but twice.  I can still taste the icy Coke to celebrate.
Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of Great Britain, once said, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”
With that in mind—during my barn rummaging—I decided to see whether I could win the anvil challenge again.
Whoa, that thing is heavy.
I wish Earl was still here.  He’d make me another set of concrete barbells.