Diane Lowman stumbles across a treasure that reminds her of her father’s legacy.
Without my walking stick, I’d go insane
I can’t look my best I feel undressed without my cane
Must have my walking stick ’cause it may rain
When it pours, can’t be outdoors without my cane
Acne scars pockmarked his face. His yellowed teeth tripped over each other, but never on the way to an orthodontist. Despite, or maybe because of these physical deficits, along with average height and weight, he sported an outsized personality and presence.
I scrutinize a tattered black and white photo of my father, gone now 14 years, who I called Alvin because it made him feel younger and made me feel older. He leans languidly on a chain link fence, wool baseball jacket snapped lazily at the waist. His posture pulls it back a bit to reveal a polo tucked into jeans “denim blue faded up to the sky.” I think of the Cat Stevens tune. Oh Very Young, indeed. “You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.” He looks so very young in this photo, taken at a time when he’d run to White Castle during high school lunch break and bring back enough square hamburgers and fries to sell for a profit. He could be an extra in Grease. A Jet in West Side Story. Or my dad-to-be. His widow’s peak dips into the prominent forehead that he bequeathed to my firstborn, along with the shelf of brows eclipsing deep-set dark eyes. A prominent Kirk Douglas chin dimple sits below a wry, mischievous grin.
His hands, big for his frame, are tucked into front jean pockets. They so often held mine for comfort as I smoothed his broad, flat, ridged thumbnail. “Everything will be ok, Klube,” he would say. He got that nickname for me from a dilapidated painted window sign for the bygone pub echoing a bygone era that he’d pass on 23rd Street on his way to work at Metropolitan Life. We would later make that same walk together when I took my first job after college there. The lettering was faded but unmistakable. “Everything will be ok.”
Dead at age 66, after confronting Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for over a decade, something random brings him to mind every day.
I channel him through the canes. I am the conservator and curator of his collection of two dozen, which began in Switzerland when he bought a hiking stick and covered it with small metal badges from everywhere he went, as if he were Captain Von Trapp shepherding his family across the Alps as they fled the Nazis. Whenever he used it he’d croon a few bars of Leon Redbone’s “My Walking Stick.” I took my boys to see him sing that song in concert years after dad died.
He reveled in collecting them during his travels, and I contributed many from mine. His favorite was the sophisticated, slim, mosaic-covered stick that concealed a sword inside. I love the sleek, black, shiny one with a shapely brass lady’s leg bent at the knee for a handle. When I hold them, I am holding his hand again.
Even with him gone so long, I often gravitate to shop for canes when I travel. Two years ago I visited Dustin of the big forehead in Dublin, there studying writing. I visited the small town of Sandy Cove, a train ride down the rugged, jagged coast, to see the tower that inspired James Joyce to write Ulysses. It happened, significantly, to be “Bloomsday,” June 16, when the Irish celebrate the main character of that oeuvre, Leo Bloom. Joyce-themed festivities abound along the high street. At one secondhand shop a jocular gentleman in a period costume invites me in.
I step across the threshold into 1904. A cane catches my eye and I lift it out of the window to cradle it in my arm. “That’s a beauty,” the shopkeeper says, and she is correct. “It’s olive wood, hand carved in Tunisia. I can’t remember who brought it in, but a very well known poet stopped in one day with its twin and explained its origin. He almost bought it, but he changed his mind, saying what need had he for two? Someone else should enjoy it. I guess that someone is you!” A man sitting on a stool next to the register nods his head in assent to validate the story.
The blond wood grain glows and the smooth, curved handle fits in my hand. I stare at it there. “My father used to collect canes. He would have loved this.”
“Ah, then it’s meant to be yours, seeing it’s Father’s Day and all. He’d want ya to have it.”
I look up and into her eyes slowly. It’s Father’s Day. In all the literary excitement, and so far from home, I’d totally forgotten. I feel an odd pang. “He’s gone 12 years,” I say. “Mine 20 now,” she says in a lilting brogue, “and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. Then he’s here wit ya now. He wants ya to have it.” I look over my shoulder, thinking for a moment that she sees him, and then back at her. I’m misty now, and I see that she is, too.
“How much is it?” I ask, although at this point I’m in too far; it’s irrelevant. €40? €50? I hope not more. “Eight Euros,” she says, and I feel a chill. Alvin loved a bargain. I pay her, quickly, thinking she might change her mind. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” I put out my hand, which she takes in hers, holding on to it as she comes around the small counter to hug me.
Back at the station waiting for the train to Dublin, I feel such contentment. I look down to lean the cane carefully on the metal bench. Now that I own it, I want to keep it from harm. Alvin would be very pleased. I see him in that photo, leaning against the fence, grinning at my find.
Photo courtesy of author