The last

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | Dec 26, 2019

Rummaging around recently in the old three-story, plus basement, barn that houses thousands of old books, tools and paraphernalia at Liberty Tool in Liberty, I came across some shoe lasts. I hadn’t seen any since I left my grandparents farm up on Tucker Ridge in 1945 (now stop counting) and just had to have them. (My priorities, admittedly, are different than most.)

Surrounded by shelves and stacks, boxes, and drawers of hundreds of other old and familiar tools, many, like the shoe lasts, no longer used by today’s craftsmen, my mind filled with scenes from the farm and Grampa Roy in his workshop where I spent endless hours watching and "helping" as he fixed, crafted, laced, sharpened, glued, pounded and put things together. He never shooed me away. I never heard “I’m busy now. Run along and play.” He always found something I could help with, though looking back, I probably wasn’t much help, but he always made me feel I was, and most of all, always welcome.

Grampa had been a blacksmith in the years before my brother and I went to live on the farm. He was still a Maine Guide but, in his 70s by the time we were there, he no longer did many of the things he had over the decades (he was born in 1872), much of which centered around the workshop. The farmhouse once was lit with gas lights on the walls and he had a gas lathe in the workshop for woodworking, like the tennis racket frames he made for a big tennis racket outfit. He also made toboggans, and was famous for his cross-bows. One of his NYC guiding clients traded him a sweet Remington .22 long-rifle for one of his crossbows. Grampa gave the rifle to my brother.

He also made snowshoes after the style of the Canada Ojibwa Indians. He made me a pair, scaled down to my size for Christmas one year. He included the red and green tufts of yarn, Ojibwa style. Come the Stalking Moon in January that shone so bright and bounce-lighted off the snow-fields and through the woods like it was daylight, you could pick up rabbit or deer tracks and follow them. He would take us snowshoeing after dark and teach us “Indian-tracking.”

In his workshop, he had made a sharpening contraption with a large round grindstone mounted like the front wheel of a bicycle that was turned by him sitting on a seat and peddling. A small tub of water was mounted above the wheel and a spigot would provide a slim stream of water onto the grinding wheel as he peddled and sharpened axes, knives and other tools.

There was no electricity on The Ridge then, so much of Grampa’s work was done with hand tools; planes, levels, hammers (with solid old-growth wood) and bits and braces for drilling.

So at Liberty Tool, I grabbed a set of bits and a brace along with a bucksaw for my brother. (Grampa had made a scaled-down bucksaw for my brother when he was about 10. He "bet" him 50 cents that he couldn’t saw and split enough wood to fill the wood box. Wasn’t my brother some proud to have provided enough wood to fill the box three times. Grampa had a way of making chores seem like privileges.)

On the workbenches full of tools there were the shoe lasts. These consisted of an iron stand and separate sized iron formed "feet" that could be fitted on top, depending on the size of the shoe to be resoled or heeled. The shoe would then be slipped over the form, upside down and with Grampa’s feet anchoring the stand, he would repair the shoes.

Nowadays it's difficult to find a cobbler as shoes and boots today come with soles and heels that mostly aren’t replaceable. Many also just disintegrate while the tops still have years worth of wear. It irritates me to no end. Indeed, I have a pair of warm shearling leather boots with the soles gone but the tops are still fine. I haven't thrown them out, thinking one day I’ll cut them lose from the foot and use as leg warmers. (I probably never will but we were raised not to throw out anything that could be of use for something.)

In my mind's eye I can see little-girl me at Grampa’s side as he mended my shoes. School shoes back then came black or brown leather. I always chose brown.

That was a good life, up on The Ridge. Those were the days when people could take care of most of their own needs with their own hands and skills and didn’t need to make extra money to pay someone else for most things. There was a whomping dose of satisfaction and security in that simple life up on The Ridge. Grampa never worked for anyone else. I could go back to that life in a minute — if I could take my indoor plumbing and computer.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.

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