I believe we exist in the bits and pieces of our ancestors. Like a puzzle, we all fit together, one nook and cranny nestling into the other, hugging the spaces in between, until we complete this panorama we call life.
For me, nothing connects me to my past and to my future like Grandpa’s walking stick. I wrap my hand around the bent wood and feel the strength of the generations that have come before me. The curve is now smooth as a polished stone, and dark finish has turned the color of honey, faded away by the sweat of wrinkled palms and the burden of the years. My fingers fit almost perfectly into the indentations on the bottom.
It was my grandfather’s cane, and when I look at it, I can see him smile with dentures that were too big for his mouth, and a ruffle of hair around the back of a bald head. I can see him when I, as a child, followed him around, waiting while he bent down the trunks of young saplings so that I could ride them like the wind. And I can see him when I was a young mother, and he, now 76, had been playing ball with my four year old son. “It wears me out”, he’d said,” but the little feller sure enjoys it.” Grandpa loved life and passed it on.
Later, it became my father’s cane. It was hard to see him use it at first, because to me, it was the symbol of an old man, and my father had never been old in my eyes. To me, he would always walk the hills and pastures in black rubber boots,
with his rifle slung over his shoulder, or be hurrying toward the house with a bucket full of wild blackberries or plums. However, as the years progressed and his steps grew slower, he finally consented to use the cane. Dad respected all of life and passed it on.
Then “Papa’s walking stick” became my mother’s. At Dad’s funeral, she leaned against it, the last of the traces of who she had once been now forever gone. The young beauty with the wavy hair and wishful dreams had given way to the reality of existence. In her last years, she spent more time in the past than in the present, and never went anywhere without her father’s cane. Mom accepted life and passed it on.
And now, I know that as surely as the night follows the day, the time will come when I, too, will lean a frail body against it for support. When I do, I will feel my hand on top of my grandfather’s, and my father’s and my mother’s; and when I am gone, I hope the message that I have left for my children and my grandchildren will be two-fold. “You are a part of all that has gone before” and “I loved you. Pass it on.”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.