December 2013
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A Man’s Cave Is His Castle

  Some things that are real special to Don Renfroe are under glass. One of these is a cowbell worn by a Jersey cow named Sammy. Her milk helped Don gain weight when he was a newborn baby.

Long before muleskinners made their appearance on the Earth, there were cavemen.

Don Renfroe can trace his ancestry back to the early muleskinners so he knows and understands his love of the ol’ mule.

But, if his family history could go all the way back to the Stone Age, Renfroe would probably find that his ancestors sat around in caves munching on roots and craving raw fish.

And that would explain his desire for a man cave and his determination to build one.

Renfroe and his family live on a road less traveled in rather rural Pike County. And, if his mules were "a-mind" to sit at the head of the family table, Renfroe would oblige them.

He’s a mule man. It’s in his blood.

But, the cave? That’s another not quite as easily understood.

The way Renfroe tells the story of his man cave is that it was a thing of necessity.

"It all started when the family got so big we couldn’t all get in the house," Renfroe explained. "I thought about closing in the carport to make the house a little bigger, but my better half, Susan, didn’t want to do that. The grandboys had played in what they called a fort. Then the grandgirls took it over as a playhouse. But it wasn’t big enough to do anything with. So I decided to get Jimmy Bryan to put me up a pole barn."

However, Bryan suggested something more "substantial."

"At first, Susan didn’t want anything like that, but she saw one Jimmy had built and liked it," Renfroe said. "He got to work and closed the pole barn in. My first thought was to put some cheap paneling in it, but I decided, if it was going to be my man cave, I wanted it nice."

  A sign welcomes all to Don Renfroe’s man cave, below.  
The man cave started out when the family got so big they couldn’t all fit into the house. Renfroe decided if it was going to be his man cave, he wanted something nice. It also gave a place to display some things special to him.  

Being the kind of sentimental muleskinner he is, Renfroe thought about using the wood from his granddaddy and grandmother Renfroe’s old house.

"In their later years, they got electricity - one light on a cord, but they always had an outhouse – they never had a bathroom or indoor plumbing," Renfroe continued. "So I used some old weathered wood from their house and made the door the bathroom. I dedicated the bathroom to my granddaddy and grandmother Renfroe because they never had a bathroom."

If a man’s cave is to be his castle, Renfroe decided it should be filled with memories.

Everything, every tangible thing, in Renfroe’s man cave has a story. So there are hundreds of stories to be told.

"All the pieces are related to me in some way," he said. "My grandmother’s quilting frame was used to frame quilt pieces and it adds color and interest to the bathroom. And I put some things that are real special to me under glass because I don’t want them to get misplaced."

One of those "things" is a cowbell.

"There’s a story about that cowbell," Renfroe told. "When I was born more years ago than I want to say, I weighed six pounds and lost from there. Somebody said I needed rich Jersey milk to gain weight. So, my daddy Max Renfroe bought a Jersey cow named Sammy and her calf Caledonia. I drank the milk and gained weight. We kept Sammy for 26 years and she wore that cowbell every day for all those years."

Also, "under glass," is a hammer Renfroe’s dad designed especially to install wood in Pullman Standard Manufacturing Company’s box cars. The elder Renfroe left the farm for a while and worked for the manufacturing company.

   
Left to right, Don Renfroe’s great-grandmother Renfroe’s copper funnel and dipper are encased in glass along with a sifter that belonged to his mother Mildred Renfroe and his great-granddaddy Renfroe’s drawing knife and plane. Also “under glass” is a hammer Max Renfroe designed especially to install wood in Pullman Standard Manufacturing Company’s box cars. Renfroe’s grandmother’s quilting frame was used to frame quilt pieces and it adds color and interest to the bathroom.  When one of the Renfroe clan rings the dinner bells, everyone gathers in the man cave to enjoy some good food.

Renfroe’s great-grandmother Renfroe’s copper funnel and dipper are encased in glass along with a sifter that belonged to his mother Mildred Renfroe and his great-granddaddy Renfroe’s drawing knife and plane.

Several pictures are hung in prominent places.

"This drawing is real special to me because it was done by my granddaughter Marley, who was the one that got me into mules and wagons," Renfroe said. "She loved for me to tell her stories about mules and that just piqued my interest. Marley was a little girl when she did the drawing and, to me, it’s as good as art gets."

The enamel pan was used by Renfroe’s mother to make jellies and jams. And the jug of Josie moonshine?

"No comment," Renfroe said, laughing. "But Josie is known for making the best moonshine around."

   
Left to right, there are several drawings and paintings of mules in the man cave. The painting of the two white mules was a gift from Susan Renfroe. It was done from a photograph taken of Renfroe’s mules during a parade. One piece of artwork in the man cave is a Jack Deloney cane mill print, which hangs between two cane strippers.  At right, this drawing is real special to Don Renfroe because it was done by his granddaughter Marley, who was the one that got him into mules and wagons.

The painting of two white mules was a gift to Renfroe from his wife.

"Susan bought it at the Pike Road craft show because I have two white mules," Renfroe said. "I got to looking at it and knew they were my mules. I could tell by the harnesses and the way the wagon tongue was painted."

About a year later, Renfroe met a man at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama in Troy and recognized his name as the signature on the painting of the mules.

"He had taken a picture of my mules at the China Grove parade and had painted the picture from that photograph," Renfroe said. "So I have an original painting of my mules."

Another piece of artwork is a Jack Deloney cane mill print.

"It was a gift from a relative who thought it would be a good centerpiece for the two cane strippers I have hanging," Renfroe said. "Like I said, everything in the man cave has a story, and it may not be worth a dime, but its worth is in the memories that it holds."

And, when one of the Renfroe clan rings the dinner bells, everyone gathers in the man cave for dinner, supper, a birthday or anniversary celebration, a church event or just time together.

"We have three dinner bells," Renfroe concluded. "The oldest belonged to my great-great grandfather Renfroe. I don’t know how old it is, but it is the oldest. The bell that belonged to my great-granddaddy Hixon was cast in 1901. The other belonged to Susan’s granddaddy Park. A lot of families are represented here so this is not just Don Renfroe’s man cave; it’s a gathering place for family and friends, and a place where we make memories that will last a lifetime."

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.