Here’s one more thing about Ralph Moran. When I lived in Worthington, he wasn’t the oldest person in Worthington although he held the town cane — an honor given to the resident who’s lived the longest.
In 1901 the Boston Post newspaper gave every town and city in the state in Massachusetts a cane with a 14-karat solid gold handle and a shaft of African ebony, to bestow on their eldest as a gimmick to sell more newspapers. The paper no longer exists, by the way.
Over the years some communities have managed to hold onto theirs, but many got lost when the family didn’t give it back after the oldest-timer died. That’s what happened in Worthington, and sometime in the ’80s a cabinetmaker in town made a new one.
It’s supposed to be a great honor being the oldest. This town and others typically have a ceremony and the local newspaper always does a story.
Some people are in sad shape, not really knowing they’re the most senior of citizens. Some spry folk accept the cane with gusto. When Ruby became Cummington’s oldest at age 93, she announced when the cane was presented at Town Meeting, “I’m going to give people fair warning that I’m not going to act my age.” She succeeded a woman named Alta, who got the cane when she was 95. She said of her longevity, “I think God is behind it.
But sometimes people don’t want any part of the cane. It carries a hex: you get it, and then you die. At least that was happening in Worthington. Several years ago, the cane went to the third-oldest resident because the first and second, two women, turned it down. Harry, an old rascal who lived in the town’s senior housing, proclaimed in his acceptance speech, “Maybe this cane will get rusty before you get it back.”
The same happened with Ralph. The oldest man wanted nothing to do with it, but Ralph being the good sport that he was he went along with it.
Ralph died a couple of years after we moved from Worthington to Taos. He was 95. The cane was passed to someone else.
This story was posted first in my old blog Fiction de Taos.