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Short Stories for Children of All Ages: Nail SoupNail Soup
Once, a long time ago, there was a war. Two countries came together and fought for twelve long years until both kings ran out of money. When the money was gone, they declared peace and sent their armies home. But they had no way to pay their soldiers. They gave every man his uniform, his musket, his sword, a loaf of bread and a square of cheese and said, "Thank you very much."
Now some soldiers could walk home in a day or two, some in three or four. One soldier, however, lived on the other side of the kingdom. It would take him weeks to walk home. After a few days, his bread and cheese were gone and he was hungry. He came to a small village and said to himself, I fought for these people for a dozen years. I'm sure they will give me something to eat.
He knocked on the first door. An old man, wrinkled and bent with age, answered the door with a frown on his face. "What do you want?" he asked.
"I'm a soldier come home from the war. I was wondering if you could help me with a piece of fruit or some bread and cheese? I'm hungry."
"Go away," said the old man. "We hardly have enough to feed ourselves." He slammed the door in the soldier's face.
That's too bad, thought the soldier.
He went to the next cottage and knocked on the door. A young woman answered the door, her frown as awful as the old man's. "What do you want?"
Doesn't anyone know the word "hello"? thought the soldier. "I'm a soldier come home from the war, and I'm hungry. I was wondering if you could spare some food? I'll work for it. I'll cut wood or carry water or"
"Go away," she interrupted. "I can't spare a thing."
The soldier went to the next door and knocked. A little boy, wearing the same frown, answered the door. "What do you want?" he asked sharply. He had learned his lessons well.
"I'm a soldier come home from the war, and I was wondering if you could help me."
"Go away." The boy slammed the door.
The soldier went to every cottage in the village and got the same answers: "We don't have enough to share." "Go away." "Leave us alone."When he looked into their back yards, however, he saw big gardens full of produce, trees heavy with fruit, chickens and goats and cows. They had plenty to spare, they just wouldn't share with him.
He still had his sword and musket. He could have taken anything he wanted, but he wasn't that kind of man. He decided to go to the next town and see if the people there were friendlier. Before he left, he stopped to rest in the park at the center of the village. He took off his tall hat and rested his musket against a bench. Then he unbuckled his sword belt, opened his jacket, and stretched out his long legs.
As he sat, he detected a sweet smell all around him. He looked down and saw that the bench he sat on was brand new, probably made that very day. The sawdust and new wood combined to make a won­derful smell. As he looked down, he saw a pile of carpenter's nails. This is a find, he thought. I've been gone all these years. I'm sure I'll need to make a few repairs around my house. Too bad it's not food, though. As he slipped the nails into his pocket he got an idea—perhaps, in a way, the nails were food.
He jumped up on the bench and started to call out.
"People of the village—come out, come out, come out! I have a gift for you."
The people peeked out their windows and opened their doors just a crack.
"Don't be shy," he called. "It's free!"
When the people heard the word free, they all came out— every man, woman, and child.
The soldier smiled down at them all and spoke. "I am a soldier come home from the war. Not too long ago, I went around the world in one day. I had breakfast with the Emperor of China, tea with the Emperor of Japan, and dinner with the Queen of America. All these very important and powerful people share a secret. They all have a bowl of very special soup each day. It makes them happy and wise. I have the recipe. The Queen of America gave it to me, and I'm going to make it for you."
The people cheered. "What kind of soup is it?" they asked.
"Nail soup," he cried.
The people shook their heads in bewilderment. They had never heard of nail soup. Even the best cooks were perplexed.
"You've never heard of nail soup?" asked the soldier. "It's very high in iron. Well, if you don't want me to make it for you I'll go on to the next village and make it there."
The people begged him to stay and make his wonderful soup for them.
"Fine. We'll need a few things. First, a pot big enough to feed the whole village."
"My sister has a cauldron in her back yard."
The men from the village dragged it into the park. Some children ran off with buckets and began to fill the cauldron with spring water. Others brought wood and started a fire. Soon the water was beginning to bubble and boil.
"Do you put the nails in now?" they asked.
"Not yet. Too bad this is such a poor village and you have nothing to share. There are some ingredients that make nail soup just delicious."
"Like what?" asked the villagers.
"Well, if we had some potatoes and carrots that would be nice."
The old man he first met went and got a big sack of potatoes. The young woman who had turned him away came back with a huge bunch of carrots. The soldier cut them up with his sword and put them into the pot.
"Now you put the nails in?"
"Not yet. You know what makes nail soup really good?"
They shook their heads no.
"Some onions and tomatoes."
People ran to their homes and brought back dozens and dozens of onions and tomatoes. He cut them up and threw them into the pot. The smell was inviting.
"Now you put the nails in?"
"Not yet. You know what makes nail soup really good?"
Again they all shook their heads no.
"Some zucchini and spices."
Everyone had zucchini. They brought back dozens, as well as garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano. The soldier cut up the zucchini and poured in the spices. The smell was captivating.
"Now you put the nails in?"
"Not yet. You know what makes nail soup perfect? If we had some meat. Any leftovers will do."
All the people ran back and came back with beef and chicken, pork and duck. The soldier cut it up and put it into the pot.
"Now, everyone go home and bring back a bowl and a spoon for yourselves, and would one of you bring back an extra one for me? Don't forget to bring something to share — bread, fruit, cheese, wine."
All those people who had been so sour and unfriendly laughed and skipped back to their homes. They came back with bowls and food to share with their neighbors. They stood in line and one by one, the soldier gave each of them a bowl of soup. Some people had two bowls, some three; the soldier had four. They sat in the park and ate their soup and shared their food. People started to sing, some started to tell stories, and one man went home and brought back his fiddle, and soon the folks were dancing.
Suddenly, one little boy yelled at the top of his voice.
"Wait a minute! He didn't put the nails in."
Everyone stopped and stared at the soldier. Slowly he took the nails from his coat pocket and gently put them into the hand of the boy.
 "You're right, I didn't. But you keep the nails, son, and next time someone comes to your door hungry, you'll know just what to do."
The people shuffled their feet and looked away.
Then the music started again, and the stories and songs and dances all flooded back, this time to stay.
The soldier was right. Nail soup makes everyone very happy and very wise.
Dan Keding
Stories of Hope and Spirit
Little Rock, August House Publishers, 2004

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