Contact Me

If you enjoy my blog and would like to contact me, you may reach me at this email:

Some of my stories are published in:
A Cup of Comfort Devotional for Mothers and Daughters (Adams Media, 2009)
Chicken Soup: What I Learned from the Dog (2009)
Love is a Flame (Bethany House, 2010)
Extraordinary answers to Prayer (Guideposts, 2010)
Love is a Verb (Bethany House, 2011)
Big Dreams from Small Spaces (Group Publishing, 2012)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Daddy's Magic Nail

After my dad's interment, we all went back to my sister's house, sat around and tried to remember all the funny stories and jokes my dad used to tell at family gatherings.
All of us kids (well, we're years past being kids) remembered The Magic Nail story.
None of us could tell the story, now that he's gone.
It's not that we don't remember every detail of the story; it's that we can't tell it without getting all choked up.
There were two places in particular that I can remember Daddy telling us stories:
One was while sitting in the family car while Mother went into the store for a few groceries.
The other time was while watching Daddy in the kitchen as he concocted one of his wonderful Mulligan stews.
Being Norwegian, not Irish, Daddy preferred to call his stew "Magic Nail" soup.
I would sit on a chair  nearby while Daddy chopped up onions, potatoes, carrots and added it to a simmering beef stock. Then he would tell me the story of The Magic Nail. The mouth-watering aromas coming from his stockpot, and his story-telling would transport me into another world. Here is what he told me:

A wizened old beggar struggles through sleet and bluster on a frigid night. "My, my, if I don't get out of this storm, the cold will freeze my old bones, and the wolves will make a light meal a me."
At last he see's through the gloom the dim lights of a cottage on the edge of a small village. "Perhaps it is time to bring out my magic nail." The man adjusts his satchel and stumbles forward to knock at the door of the little house.
The door opens just a crack and the beggar sees just the tip of a long nose and the sad, wrinkled eyes of an old woman. "Eh? What do you want, old man?"
"Please, kind woman," the beggar says, "could you spare a spot by your fire? It's a cold, cold night, and the wolves are howling fierce tonight."
The old woman eyes the beggar suspiciously. "Do you have any money to pay for your lodging?"
The beggar shrugs. "Not a penny have I."
"Then," the old woman says, "I will not let you into my cottage. I'm a widow and I have nothing to share, especially not with a beggar. And no one else in this village will share their fire since famine has gripped our land. " She starts to close the door.
Desperate, the beggar thinks fast. He shoves his foot into the quickly diminishing space between the door and the jam. "Old woman, not so fast. I said I have not a penny. But I have with me," he pats his satchel, "a most magical nail."
"Eh? A nail, you say?" the door opens just a hairsbreadth more. "What's so magical about a nail?"
The beggar lifts the satchel and holds it protectively to his chest. "Ah, this nail in my satchel is like no other nail you have ever seen. With this nail, you can make a most marvelous soup. A soup so delicious and nutritious that your tongue will exult and your belly will be satisfied even during the most lean years."
The woman's eyes light up. "With just this nail I can make soup?"
"That's right," the beggar replies, nodding his head enthusiastically. "All kinds of soup: lentil, squash, vegetable or vegetable with beef, or beef barley or --"
"Oh," the old woman coos. She extends an emaciated arm. "Show me this nail. Then perhaps I will let you inside."
The beggar takes a step back. "Oh, no, Ma'am. This old man and his nail must never be parted. During these years of famine my nail has kept me alive when I should have starved otherwise."
The old woman licks her chapped lips. "I have not eaten a morsel since breakfast," she mutters. "And that was just a dry crust of bread and some thin gruel."
She opens the door. "Come in, come in, old man. Show me how you can make wonderful soup with just a little nail."
The beggar hurries inside, eager to be out of the wind and biting cold. "First, old woman, fill this pot on the fire with water."
"How much water? This much?" the woman dumps a little water into the pot.
The beggar stands with his hands on his hips. "My, my, no. This is a magic nail. You must fill it all the way to the brim with water."
The woman eagerly does as she is told.
"Now," the beggar says. "Here is my magic nail." He slowly reaches into his satchel, rummages around, then finds what he is looking for. He lifts the nail out and flashes it before the woman's eyes.
"Do you see how plain my nail is? Why, one would never guess that it has such powers. But just watch as I drop it into this pot of soup."
Plink. The nail drops down to the bottom of the pot.
"I will get the bowls ready," the old woman says as she reaches into a cupboard.
"Not so fast, old woman," says the beggar. "Let me taste the broth." He dips a spoon into the water and gives it a slow taste. "Hmm." He smacks his lips.
The woman clasps her hands. "Yes? Yes? Is is delicious soup yet?"
The beggar puts down the spoon. "Not quite ready. But what would make it even better would be a potato or two.
"Yes, I can see how a potato would make our magical soup even better." The woman scurries to open her cellar door. When she comes back up, she is holding an old potato, and  a dried sprig of rosemary. "Beggar man, do you think our magic soup could use this old root?"
"The beggar man leans over the pot and murmurs, "What do you think, my magic nail? Would you accept an old, dried up potato?"
He nods his head, then turns to the woman. My magic nail also says that any old carrots would help to make the soup even more delicious."
The old woman frowns with concern. "I don't have any carrots. This potato was the last thing in my cellar."
Then her face brightens. "But my daughter and her husband may have a carrot. and I'm sure I could borrow an onion from my son and his wife. They live just down the way."
The woman throws on her shawl, grabs her lantern and hurries off into the night.
When she returns with her borrowed vegetables, the beggar hears many voices behind her.
He smiles.
The woman opens the door wide to let in her daughter and husband, her son and his wife and their many children. Behind them, too,  are the hungry, hopeful faces of other neighbors, each carrying  some small item meant to be added to the magic soup.
"Welcome, welcome, friends." The beggar motions them all inside. "With my magic nail, we have more than enough to feed everyone on this cold, stormy evening."
They stoke the fire with wood. Light, laughter and full bellies dispel fear of the future.
As long as the village possessed the magic nail they need never concern themselves with famine and an empty pot.

(The Magic Nail, a variation of Stone Soup, by Thormod James Nicolaisen. Literary adaptation by Dena Netherton)


  1. Love this, Dena. You had a very special father.

  2. He was a man for all seasons.I miss him so much.

  3. Dena, thank you for sharing this wonderful story, and a glimpse of your uniquely special Dad!

  4. thanks, Bobbe. I really appreciate your visits to my blog posts, especially this one.