When my wife and I travel around we like to go to antique stores. I love old things, tools, pottery, plates, stuff. I like to hold old items and feel their past. I think about the people who made it, and the people who used it. I think about the stories an object could tell. Stories of good times and bad. Celebrations and sorrows. I think about how important it was at one time and then, as time passed, it became an antique, a relic, to be sold and displayed on a wall or mantle 100, 200 years later.
I have been looking for a tobacco stick for a year or so to add to the provenance of a tobacco basket and tools I bought last year. On a recent trip to Virginia I found a bundle of twenty for $10.00. Although I only needed one I bought the twenty and figured I would find something to make with the other nineteen.
The owner of the store was an old grizzled guy who, I am sure, was laughing on the inside at the dumb-ass (me) paying $10.00 for these old twisted sticks. He asked me what I was going to do with them and I told him that I had all the tools of the tobacco trade, a basket, a knife, a spear, and a hand-planter spike but was missing the stick.
As it turns out, the old grizzled guy had spent the better part of his life working in the tobacco trade, first as a field hand and then as a grower before the number of people in United States reduced their cigarette consumption and the business of growing tobacco moved to China, India and Brazil. He fiddled with the twenty sticks and pulled out three and laid them on the counter. These, he told me, were the oldest of the bunch. When I asked why he showed me, they were hand hewn. All the others were machine cut, like short square tomato stakes, but these three were twisted and gnarled there was nothing square about them.
I held one of the sticks in my hand and asked him how old he thought it was. 75 maybe 100 years old was his reply. Then he smiled and said that old stick has seen a lot of action. It’s a tough piece of wood to have survived this long and not end up in a fire barrel to keep workers hands warm.
I have heard my Dad talk about picking tobacco when he was a kid. He does not speak of it fondly or lovingly. The leaves are sticky and the work is backbreaking and hot. He would have used an old stick just like the one I held and strung the leaves on it to hang in a curing barn. He would have been paid by the number of sticks he filled that day, cents not dollars.
I took my sticks home and placed one in my tobacco basket. For the rest of them I stole an idea off of Pinterest and made a Christmas decoration to give to my kids and wife. I gave these old sticks a new life, a new purpose maybe even something my kids can give to their kids made by an old man, from old sticks.