0719 PV Headshot Jean Shriver.JPG

Noticing the dilapidated look of my cane holder in my front hall, I decided this could be a good project for the day.

Most of these same canes once stood in a blue and white jar in our Massachusetts farm house. But my father, who loved all things brass, replaced the jar with a holder made of brass rods. The rods were gleaming when I inherited the holder. Now they were dull and the canes were dusty.

I worked on those rods with Brasso until my fingers tingled. When I finished they were about half as shiny as they were when I got them. But I was worn out, so half shiny would have to do.

I pulled out the first cane.

It was a a twisted one my husband had bought in South Africa when we went to a Black township for a building project. As I recall, the cane was made from a wood they called "Walkabikki” Don't ask me what it means, I just like the sound of the word.

My next pick was a short cane with an ivory handle. My mother used that cane until the day she died.

I liked picturing her holding it, but the cane was too short for me. My dad's cane was a workaday one, of blond wood with a rubber tip. Not very exciting.

There was one umbrella in the stand, black silk with an ivory handle that sported the initials of my great grandmother. I wouldn't dare try to put it up as I'm sure the silk would fall apart.

My great grandfather's cane was a sensible black one as befitted an Episcopalian minister, though it did have a silver top engraved with his initials. Funny how my ancestors put their initials on almost everything — their silver, their brushes, their canes and even their perfume bottles. Were they afraid some other family member might snitch them?

There is a clutch of canes in the holder that are a mystery. They have no initials and I can't imagine who bought them and who used them. Some are so slim I think they would break in half if you put any weight on them. They look like something an Edwardian dandy would sport. Hard to picture my sober, New England folk walking the Boston streets with them, though I can imagine Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly twirling one as they danced.

There's one made of black wood with yellow lines striping down its length. My son tells me it's made of wenge, a wood from Africa sometimes called “the poor man's ebony.” 

There's a fat cane carved with symbols of Mexico, and another carved with Japanese figures, according to my well-traveled son — the only person in the family who's ever been to Japan.

You wouldn't want to get hit over the head with either of those canes. Nor with the sturdy cane topped by a round, brass head. Someone gave it to my father for protection when he moved to California!

And what about me?

I do use a cane when I go on my walks. But not a cane from the fancy holder.

No, I've taken over the cheap black cane I bought for my husband a few years ago at CVS. Though he was almost a foot taller than I, it works for me. Nice rubber tip, lightweight, with a plastic handle that fits my hand.

This homely cane lives in the back hall where it's mostly unseen. It's for blow not for show. And obviously, it has no initials.

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