There was a time in my life, long, long ago when the word cane conjured up an image of a sugary, red and white striped stick with a curve at its end. These candy canes were a special treat during Christmas and usually disappeared after the holiday season was over.
Years later, when I was still very young, I was occasionally aware that a raggedly old man or woman was limping down the street, leaning heavily on what was referred to as a cane. It was usually not on my street that I saw this sight. It had nothing to do with me.
If I had grown up in any other period of history, canes would have been a very common sight. Throughout every period of history, canes were everywhere. Even primitive man probably used a stick or branch to clear his way or protect him from danger.
Canes and walking sticks, as they were often referred to served many functions from weapon, status, and as a fashion accessory. They were originally made from bamboo or other plants but evolved into elaborate and decorative objects – but somehow the name cane survived.
By the end of World War II, when there was a major cultural change in our society, canes seem to have disappeared. It was the Jazz Age, the age of the flappers, an age of new freedom in dress and morals.
Recently, canes have come out of the closet. They are as ubiquitous -- yes, on my street and in my neighborhood -- just like cell phones, dogs on leashes, and baby strollers. Sometimes, one of these is seen in combination with a cane.
The people using canes today are not as old and ragged as they had been in my youth. If they’re old, I thought, old has a different look. As I see them in my neighborhood, they certainly aren’t ragged. And now there are younger people among the cane users.
The thought enters my mind now and then that given the proliferation of cane users, selling canes might be a profitable investment. I was not conscious that using a cane might be a good personal investment, even though I jokingly referred to the fact that I walked like a drunken sailor.
One day, in a visit to my internist, I mentioned my shaky balance. He immediately recommended a cane, gravely telling me he didn’t want to meet me in the emergency room after a fall.
It took me about two years to act on my doctor’s order. After I bought a cane, it took me months before I actually carried it out of my building onto my street. Yes, it makes me feel more secure as I rush around from one activity to another. Yes, I’m getting used to using my cane – but I’m still trying to get used to the change in my self-image brought about by the cane.