More on canes and walking sticks

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

A recent column about canes and walking sticks has generated comments from people I meet, all favorable, of course. I still get around without one, although there are days when I wish I’d brought it along.

And I was not clear about which one I use. The alder staff I trimmed and “decorated” is rather large to carry in church or in a store, so it takes me on longer hikes or parking lots. The small cane-shaped, uh, cane tucks away where space is limited. Unfortunately, its smaller size makes me tend to leave it behind when I’m shopping or eating, but it will probably be my staff of choice when I do need it.

Remember my old friend Carol, a neighbor and playmate when we were still preschoolers in Harrisburg, Pa.? That would have been about 1940-1945. We reconnected last year and reaffirmed each other’s status as oldest-old-friends.

Carol writes a little, is still wed to Ollie whom she met in college. He’s a nearly-retired physician, and they live mostly in San Diego.

She reads me regularly in The Citizen online and wrote me an evocative letter recently:

The “walking stick” [column] reminded me of two things. A couple of years ago, we went climbing Mt. Whitney, 14,000-some feet. The oxygen gets a little thin around 12,000 and climbing becomes reduced to a step or two and stop to catch your breath.

Ollie sat down against a rock to rest and fell asleep. The last 200 feet we could see the folks who had reached the top and I said, “That’s enough! Who cares if we don’t get to sign the guest book.”

And I started back down. First of all I started looking for a stick, any kind of stick that would give me a crutch to clutch, help me get back to the bottom of the mountain. All that I could find were overgrown twigs that kept breaking after a few steps. But 20 minutes later, we got back into oxygen laden air – air, beautiful air – suddenly my feet no longer hurt, my knees and legs became pillars of strength. After feeling sooo bad, I felt sooo good that I threw away all my walking sticks and sang every song I ever knew, all the way to the bottom.

I know the experts say a walking stick decreases your effort, but I like to let my arms swing freely.

Now the other walking stick.… My sister’s daughter, who was the mother of three teenage daughters of her own, died suddenly in her bed at 51 years of age. Her family was devastated. They never found any reason, or cause. Her autopsy showed no cause, her blood tests were clear and normal.

When we went up to her memorial service, I had to speak, to say how I knew her as a baby, as a child. Of all the hundreds of guests there, I was the only one who had known her before her marriage. I had changed her diapers, as it were. Later in the family’s home, her daughters were showing me some of her “heirlooms,” not knowing really what they were or where they came from: An old desk that I told them had belonged to my grandmother, their great-grandmother. A sword that I recognized from their great-grandfather’s WWII Army uniform. Another sword that a great-great-uncle had carried in the Civil War, in the 8th Indiana Cavalry.

But older than all of these was an ebony walking stick with a silver knob handle engraved with the name of their great-great-grandfather Henry Conrad Dannettell, born in Amiens, France, in October, 1815, six months after the Battle of Waterloo. His father was a farrier, a blacksmith who shod the horses in the cavalry of the King’s German Legion, which fought against Napoleon in 1815.

My nieces offered me these treasures since I was the only one left of my family. I could tell they were reluctant to give them up. I left the Civil War Cavalry sword, since one of the girls thought it was “really cool,” and was engraved with the name of its owner, Captain Melancthon Quivrain Dannettell.

I left them the desk even though I remembered it from my Lebanon Valley [Pa.] College dorm room.

But I did take the walking stick with its silver handle and the name of my great-grandfather Henry Conrad Dannettell, dated 1850, the year he received his license to practice as attorney-at-law in Ohio.

Thanks, Carol. I hope, by sharing this, to remind readers that tangible “things” carry to future generations the history of those who no longer walk among us. And as long as they exist, they witness silently to our memories.

SallieS@Juno.com