I can’t remember what all I’ve said here about my mom’s paternal grandfather, but he was quite a character. After growing up on a farm, he became a teamster, hauling supplies into the oilfields of West Virginia. He worked hard, cussed hard, drank hard and probably fought hard. Once married, his wife and children eventually seemed to have some civilizing effect on him, as did riding into a low barn door on a tall horse one night when he was drunk. When he regained consciousness, he seemed to have a changed perspective. He supposedly got saved soon after and joined the Methodist Church.
He ended up becoming a horse-trader (some would say a pin-hooker), but anything and everything was fair game for trade, including cattle, mules, sheep, goats, land, firearms and more. Methodist or not, I get the feeling that he was a bit of a shyster. He was old when I knew him, though, spending much of his day in a rocking chair near the bay window of my granddad’s home. My great-grandmother had died the year before I was born, and he had grown feeble soon after and chose to live with his son. He hobbled through his later years using one of his old livestock canes, which had been painted brown. He used it to grab me around the neck when I’d go rushing by his chair, deliberately tempting him to do so. Only as an adult did I realize the combination of speed and gentleness he retained at that age. Maybe it came from all those years of using the cane to hook sheep around the neck as he sorted them!
He died when I was six years old, and his funeral was the first of many that I would attend in my youth. Years later, I ended up with the cane, and recently, some knee problems have caused me to use it on occasion. The old brown paint was badly worn, and I decided to refinish the cane and return it to nearer its original appearance. The first thing I discovered was that it had two holes in it where a steel rod had once run from near the end of the crook back to the main body of the cane, to add strength, I assume. I suspect he removed the rod to allow him to use it as a short shepherd’s crook while sorting sheep in pens and cattle shoots. I’m sure glad the rod wasn’t there when he hooked ME around the neck! The awl and the nail-file on my Swiss Army knife got rid of some of the plastic wood that had been used to fill the holes before the cane was painted. I decided to leave most that remained in the holes, as I had no plans to replace the rod.
I couldn’t find any paint remover in the basement, so I bought a can of the expense brand for $10. I found that scraping it off, as directed, wasn’t easy on a small piece of wood like a cane. Four applications and many paper towels later, I had it wiped clean. When I went back to the basement to get my can of mineral spirits for a final wipe-down, I found TWO cans of paint remover! Oh well, I know that I’ve got plenty now!
I had thought about sanding the cane a bit to get rid of some of the dings and scratches, but decided against it. The surface was actually smooth already, although slightly stained to some depth on the handle part and on the bottom foot or so. I figured the dings and scratches each had a story, though I don’t know the details. The stains on the handle area could have been from tobacco and those near the bottom from years of mucking around in barns. The black stain on the bottom 3 inches, from the friction tape that once held on a cracked cane tip, came off with the stripper. I applied a 50/50 mix of rubbing alcohol and boiled linseed oil and called it good enough. A black cane tip from the hardware store completed the job. So now, when my knee is acting up, and I wish to look a bit more civilized than my big walking stick would allow, I’ve got an old cane with a story to help me on my way. What would we old folks do without our memories? Some days, they seem to be all we have left! © 2013
Great-Granddad and me when I was four years old. Unfortunately, the cane isn't in the picture.
The cane - before refinishing.
The cane - AFTER being refinished