Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Walking Stick

A walking stick is not a common accessory for the majority. Of those who are in need of one, it is equally probable that only a minority of them own a stick which qualifies as anything more than a support device, often as painfully shabby as the legs they are meant to assist. Yet there are those for whom a walking stick is far more than a functional apparatus. Indeed, a walking stick can be a weapon of singular virtue when properly employed. As much as one's first instincts might be to limit the demographics of people to whom a stick might appeal, in fact there is pretty much a stick for everyone, young or old. Of course the use of a stick (apart from decapitating weeds while walking the dog, for example) is predicated upon some degree of physical infirmity, otherwise it is little more plausible than a nosegay. The extent of one's disability need not, however, be great, as even a slight sprain or touch of arthritis admits to the use of one without apology.

In my lifetime I have oddly enough had several instances where the matter of a stick has come up with some relevance. The first was about thirty years ago when, in a local curiosity shoppe, I spied a very handsome stick made of solid oak, capped with a rounded brass head. It had no "handle" so to speak, so it was clearly nothing more than an attractive walking stick. While the heavy, blunt head would have adequately suited the purpose of announcing oneself at the front door of a respectable home, its utility for anything else was fairly limited as without a handle, the dexterous management of the pointed extremity was a challenge. Nonetheless, like all acceptable sticks, its purpose of adornment in the hallway umbrella stand suffers not in the least by its lack of profitable application.

While I have said that there were three occasions in my life where sticks made a significant appearance, I should probably expand that list to include another (a reference I overlooked because it didn't involve me in the purchase of one). I speak here of my acquaintance with an elderly gentleman who, in the twenty-five years or so I knew him, I never once saw out of grey flannels, suit coat and a bow tie. In keeping with his very proper appearance, he frequently sported a stick, which though very economical, was something made all the more elegant in the cold Canadian winters when he surrounded himself in a full length racoon coat, topped with a broad brimmed fedora.

Anyway, back to my litany, the second time the subject of sticks surfaced was with a close friend of mine while browsing the shops of fashionable Green Avenue in Westmount, Montreal. My friend (an elegant woman) had recently suffered the castrophe of the removal a brain tumour, as the result of which her balance was seriously affected. While in one particular antique shop, we noticed a collection of sticks, each one more grand than the other (most topped with sterling silver filigree). Knowing as I did how careful my friend was about her appearance, and as anxious as I was to palliate her nagging concerns about appearing to be tipsy, I suggested the purchase of one of the sticks. I recall that it was at the time rather expensive, something in the order of $650. She went with the idea, and later that evening when she and I and our respective better halves were dining on Rue St. Denis, she pulled off the use of it most attractively.

Now that reminds me of yet another stick memory, being the sight of a mature and sylph-like woman, dressed to the nines, standing at a public art auction, assisted by a stick quite like the one my friend purchased in Montreal. I knew this woman, and when I commented to her how charming she looked with her stick, she professed to dismiss my observation, suggesting that it just made her look old, but I am convinced she didn't think so at all. By the way, this same woman was the owner of a local mansion, and as such the wardrobe addition was perfectly compatible.

My final account arose by accident as recently as this past weekend, when once again I found myself tramping about the streets of Montreal, this time on Sherbrooke Street West near the Musee des Beaux Arts. We were en route to our dinner engagement and were trying to kill a few moments before our appointed reservation. So we dipped into this pleasant looking shop which housed mostly household accessories. It, like the shop on Green Avenue, also had a stand of walking sticks, none nearly so expensive as the Green Avenue stick. These sticks were made by Coopers of England. The one I selected was a plain black stick with a nickle plated handle having a field dog's head at one end. I confess I haven't any particular need of a stick (though my bum knee would no doubt welcome it), however the umbrella stand at my office has been calling to me lately, begging me to add more complication to the two existing items in it already (an old umbrella with a sterling silver ring about its handle) and an entirely pedestrian and unornamental wooden cane.

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