Sundays have always been special to me. When I was a kid, they were for shooting pool at my Grandfather’s house while Grandma sang at two different churches.
We shot pool and the breeze, surrounded by Grandfather’s collection of western memorabilia. There were rusty branding irons in the corner, dusty old hats hanging from the ceiling (even one signed by Roy Rogers himself), and everything western on the wall. This was the shrine where I paid homage when I was growing up. I went on many imaginary round-ups sitting on a saddle in that room.
I suppose Grandma made Grandpa hide his collection in the musty downstairs room where guests would not see the dust and the rust. I took a friend to see the collection once, and he thought it was a bunch of junk. But I didn’t care because on Sunday mornings, Grandpa and I would enter that room and live in another day and another time, if just for a while.
Grandpa never threw anything away if it was old. Maybe that is how it should be. As Grandpa’s collection grew, it got tougher to shoot pool. You would pull your cue stick back and hit something on the wall.
“What the heck is that?” I’d say.
“Oh, those are some new old spurs I got. Aren’t they beauties? They called them “Mexican Gut Robbers.” I could believe it. They had rowels on them three inches long. But if the horses had to be tough back in the good old days, so did the cowboys. Grandpa’s got a pair of brass knuckles and a pearl-handled derringer on the wall … and they belonged to a banker! I will admit that one man’s junk is another man’s gold, but even Grandma would have to concede that part of the collection is valuable. There are two handmade violins that took a lot of time and talent to make. But I guess the craftsman had a lot of time. He was in prison for murder. But even the cowboy’s tools, like the braided horse hair rope, stand as testimony to a time when things were done right no matter how long it took.
One of the more interesting pieces in the collection is a long tube of thin metal with a large cupped opening at one end and a small opening at the other. “It’s a hearing aid,” joked Grandpa. “Actually, they were called ear trumpets. You put the big end up to the deaf person’s ear and you yelled like hell into the other end.”
There was always great excitement whenever Grandpa got something new for his collection. “Look at this,” he said one Sunday. It looked to me like an old piece of wood with a bunch of square nails in it. “It’s a piece of wood from a county courthouse that the government actually built in the wrong county.”
In the story of human progress, some things never change.
The pool room turned into a family museum, a symbol of our heritage. There is the number that Grandpa wore on his back when he won the team roping at the county fair. There are my brother’s first cowboy boots that eventually got handed down to me. The room was full of hand-me-downs from one generation to another.
I think my Grandpa always wanted me to be a lawyer or something upper-crust, but it was his fault I always dreamed about being a cowboy. We don’t shoot pool anymore because Grandpa is gone. I miss him terribly, as he was the father figure in my life. I like to think that Grandpa knows I did grow up to be something important … I became a cowboy. I’d like him to know that the dream never died.
Grandpa left everything in that room to me, and I’ve added to the collection, so much so that it’s taken over every room in our house. And when guests are invited to shoot a game or two of pool on that same pool table invariably, someone will pull back their cue stick and hit something new. At least it’s new to my collection. In reality, it’s probably 150 years old.
You might be surprised to learn I have another collection that’s way more valuable than all my old cowboy stuff, at least to me, it is. It’s my collection of memories. Memories of those long-gone Sundays when I fell in love with the romance of the cow business.
Thanks Grandpa. This country already had enough lawyers … and not nearly enough cowboys.