My father had a walking stick. He hated it with a passion and it is my plan, now he’s dead, to burn it in one of my stoves over the winter. The old man would appreciate the gesture. The stick symbolised everything he hated about getting old, and there was a lot he hated about getting old. We bought the stick together in a local shop that supplies leather goods, sports equipment and the like, which has been established for years – a sort of cradle to grave affair almost. Well, plimsolls to walking sticks really, but you know what I mean.
My father aged reluctantly. For many years he was in complete denial. He was inventive with his ways of overcoming obstacles because he was a clever man, but eventually need overcomes pride. He was unsteady on his feet and a stick was the only solution – don’t get me started on the time he needed a wheelchair, there’s a whole other blog post there – but it was welcomed reluctantly and with poor grace. He would use it as a prod, poking at things in shops or using it to convey his disdain of litter on the ground or obstacles in his way. The thump of his stick against his neighbour’s errant wheeley bin part of his weekly ritual. He would use it when seated to rest his hands and chin, much like a small child and would play with it, swinging it on the wrist cord this way and that – repetitive and irritated. He would point with it, swear at it, swing it like a golf club. He was furious when hospitalised one time and the staff took it away because he wasn’t steady enough to use a stick. They insisted he needed a Zimmer frame, or as he called it a ‘dimmer frame’. I was never sure if the mispronunciation was a joke or whether he genuinely thought that was what they were called. Either way, he assured us he’d be back using his stick before long as only ‘old’ people use dimmer frames. He was 91.
I hated the stick too. I hated what it meant about his health, what it meant about how our relationship was changing, would change. Would end. At first the stick was just used to steady his gait; then he came to lean more heavily on it changing his posture, his walk; next he used it to lever himself out of a chair. Eventually, even the stick couldn’t help him get around. Nor could the Zimmer which he used for only a short time. A stick couldn’t stop the inevitable from happening, and we both knew that from the day we bought it. It was why we both hated it so much.
Now the winter days are coming and the days shortening, I shall burn the stick. And no doubt hear dad rejoicing at its demise.
‘Burn the bloody thing,’ he’d say. ‘About time, too.’