One of the publications I read regularly puts out a special issue featuring things people make themselves. The makers are mostly farmers and farm family members, so a lot of what they make is farm related or makes use of discarded or worn-out implements and tools. There are people who make homes using old silos, or by renovating century-old barns. There are vehicles made from parts of other machines, and machines made from parts of vehicles. How about a self-propelled bar stool, or a way to unroll and roll fence wire, four or five strands at a time, or a building made from horseshoes? Human imagination seems to know no bounds.
To me these people represent the heart and soul of America. We are still the most inventive and clever people on earth. Sometimes, however, there is a story that on first reading is almost pure comedy.
One tells about a man and his family and friends who are making the world’s largest ball of paint. Not a paint ball, that might be used in that strange eponymous "sport," but really a ball covered in paint. Thousands of layers, applied over decades; a ball now so big that it weighs over 900 pounds! So big that the creator is considering how and where to move it before it is too big to go through the door. People actually request a layer of paint be put on to memorialize or recognize friends or relatives. Visitors to the house add their own layers. It all started, it seems, when an errant baseball fell into a bucket of paint. That was when the man was in high school. When the first layer dried, he put on a second coat. Then a third, and so on until the ball was more than a ball. When he graduated from high school he donated it to the local museum. About 25 years ago, according to the article, he began the one that now hangs from a hook in the ceiling of a room in his home dedicated to the project.
When I first read the story I found myself smiling, then chuckling, then outright laughing. Think about it: a man and his family and friends making trip after trip to a special room to add a layer of paint to what was once just a baseball, planning to perhaps build a museum for it before he has to tear down the wall of his home to move it. And how do you move a 900 pound ball, anyway? Just roll it?
Yes, it’s easy to laugh at this man and his obsession. But it really isn’t all that funny. Humorous, yes, but really, it is more serious than that. It goes back to my original thoughts about what "made it myself" really means. It means America, to me.
Yes, people sometimes do funny things, and silly things and even obscure but useful things out of necessity or quirkiness of even fundamental belief in something. But only in America, I think, will you find so much of this kind of thing. And therein lies the strength and the truth of the American story. We are an inventive people because we live in a society that encourages and rewards individual thinking. Sometimes it is a laptop computer or a cell phone carried beyond the next step. Sometimes it is a rocket that goes to the outer reaches of the solar system. Sometimes it is just a better mouse trap. Sometimes it is a ball of paint. But every iteration of inventiveness happens because a person feels free to think, to try, to experiment, to fail and to succeed. And sometimes, to laugh.
That’s America, to me.