Cane and Able Tea Bags

Mr. Henry is back, but he's not the same. 

Late July 2004

Well, Mr. Henry came home last week. He wasn't steady enough yet to walk on his own, so the hospital sent a fold-up walker home with him. He tried it for a while, but claimed it made him look like a plumbing fixture, and tossed it in a corner.

Lots of people came to see him, of course, but he was not much of a host. Mostly he just lay in bed and complained. Mr. Henry, like the rest of us, has always been a mixture of the good and the bad. But particularly in his case, taking the twinkle out of his eye left a rather unattractive remainder.

When I went by this Saturday, Miss Lula was just leaving after cleaning up the house.

"You go talk to that cranky old man! I don't have time to put up with his stuff!" She huffed on down the sidewalk, muttering to herself.

I let myself in and called out to him as I headed for the bedroom. "Mornin', Mr. Henry."

"Bullshit!" came the reply. I ignored it, and went on in. "It's a nice day out, do you want to go someplace?"

"Ain't no place 'round here for a crippled up old man to go!"

I waited a few seconds, then made my now standard speech. "Mr. Henry, we've gone over and over this. If you get up and get some exercise, you'll be able to get around just fine. You'll just have to make a few adjustments."

"I ain't adjustin' nothin'. I'm doin' just fine layin' here watchin' TV."

I was about to continue my pep talk when I heard a loud screeching of tires from the front of the house. I went out to see what was going on, just in time to see Leroy's truck sliding around the corner at the end of the block.

It seemed a little strange, but I headed back in. Then I saw something hanging on the front door. It was a homemade cane, made out of a tree branch. It was pretty solid, with a lot of knots showing where branches had been cut off. The long part was spray painted a familiar green, but the handle was well polished plain wood.

"Mr. Henry, Leroy came by, but he didn't stop."

"Good Goddamn thing! I didn't want to see that dimwitted dumb-ass anyway!"

"He brought you something." I handed over the cane.

"What's this piece of crap?" Mr. Henry busied himself inspecting the gift, while I sat down next to the bed. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I sensed a quick movement and instinctively ducked. The business end of the cane whistled over my head, missing by a few inches.

"Don't get excited," said Mr. Henry, "If I'd a wanted to hit you I would have." He was uninterested in my irritation, and kept waving the cane around. "It do have a nice balance to it."

After a few more swings he piped up, "Let's go to the Mayflower!"

I had actually been trying to come up with an excuse for a quick exit, but this changed everything. I had already offered, after all. So off we went.

Mr. Henry hobbled around the restaurant, accepting the good wishes and welcome backs of the regulars, and then took his customary seat at the counter. I sat down next to him, and soon we were well into our meals.

Then, Miss Brenda went to deliver an order to one of the booths. As she passed behind us, she suddenly let out a yelp. Naturally, I turned around to see what had happened. But she was staring right at me.

"You keep your hands to yourself!"

Well, I was not prepared for that. I glanced over at Mr. Henry, but he was hunched over his plate, intensely inspecting his grits as if all the mysteries of the world were explained in those swirls and lumps. The cane was hidden up under the counter.

I tried to put on my best look of innocence, but I was not good at it. Actual innocence is not much of a help in these cases. The best innocent looks come from folks who actually are up to something and are prepared to get caught.

"A man your age ought to know better!"

Now that really hurt.

"You're just lucky you're sitting next to Mr. Henry, or you'd be wearin' them eggs!" And she flounced off.

By now everybody in the Mayflower was looking at me. I just turned around and finished my breakfast in silence. Well, I was silent anyway. From my left came a low level sound I can only describe as discreet cackling.

I left a big tip, but still got only a silent scowl from Miss Brenda. Mr. Henry's meal was "on the house" in honor of his return.

I was ready to take the old man home when we got in the truck, but he reached out the passenger window and rapped the cane on the roof and yelled out "Wal-Mart!"

Wal-Mart was pretty busy, and I didn't want to park in the handicapped spots since I thought that would offend Mr. Henry's delicate sensibilities. I have to admit I took a bit of pleasure in parking in the farthest spot on the lot. But he made it up to the entrance in good order, wielding the cane with a now practiced ease.

Just inside the door, he picked out a buggy and seemed delighted at the increased stability it gave him. In fact, it gave him such confidence that he immediately engaged the cardboard cutouts at the "Pirates of the Caribbean" display in the video section. I caught up just in time to rescue Captain Jack Sparrow as he took a straight cane shot to the chest. I grabbed him as he was toppling over, and put him back in command.

Mr. Henry was moving on, and I headed after him. But I got distracted by a battery display, and I was trying to remember which remote control was out, and whether it took a AAA or a AA when I heard a loud "Thwack!"

I turned to see one of the cheerful yellow "Cost-Cutter" signs sailing over into the dog food aisle, the obvious victim of a cane strike. When I got to Mr. Henry, he said "I never liked that Smiley Faced Son of a Bitch!"

About that time I heard Miss Maybelle being paged, and I knew we were on shaky ground. I took a firm grip on the left side of the buggy handle and headed for the exit. Mr. Henry didn't like the idea, but he didn't have any option but to follow, hanging onto his side of the buggy.

In my town, going to Wal-Mart and not buying anything is uncommon enough, but when you not only leave empty but take a buggy with you, you're bound to attract attention. But we made it out to the parking lot without incident, and I began to breathe a little easier.

I was idly musing that there's probably a special Federal Law against assaulting a Wal-Mart Trademark, when Mr. Henry brought the cane smartly up in front of me and burst out, "Look! Ain't that General Custer over there?"

Like a damn fool, I took the bait, and glanced over my left shoulder. Mr. Henry immediately smacked my fingers with the cane and broke my grip on the buggy, then shoved off down the hill, riding on the back of his new steed.

I'd never realized how steep that parking lot was. Waving the cane like a battle flag and alternating war whoops and bugle call imitations, Mr. Henry headed downhill at a frightening speed - right at my truck.

At the last possible moment before crashing into the tailgate, Mr. Henry leaned hard to the left and avoided the collision. As he roared down the left side of my truck, he flipped the cane into the air and caught it by the tip. Using the handle as a grappling hook, he caught my front bumper and made a quick 180 degree turn to a full stop and a graceful dismount.

I walked as inconspicuously as I could down to the truck, massaging my fingers as I went. I was irritated at the abuse, but I had to admit it was good to see Mr. Henry back to his old self.

"This is a good buggy! Let's take it home!" he said as I got to the truck. He impatiently tapped the truck bed with the cane.

"I don't think so, Mr. Henry." I nodded up the hill toward the main entrance. Miss Maybelle was standing there watching us, her formidable arms crossed over her ample chest.

Mr. Henry had faced down Hitler's Hordes, but he had no desire to take on Miss Maybelle. He pushed the buggy toward me and meekly climbed into the truck.

I took the buggy to the corral and waved at Miss Maybelle as I headed back to the truck. She didn't wave back.

I didn't go in when I dropped off Mr. Henry at his house, but the cane waved at me cheerfully as I left. I had had enough for one day, and I had some things to do.

Most importantly, I had to come up with a good defense strategy for when I got home, since I was sure the Mayflower story had preceded me.

But before then, I had to buy some beer of appreciation and deliver it to a certain disreputable trailer.