New Castle News

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November 7, 2013

Lori Brothers: Canes not just for the elderly

NEW CASTLE — It is interesting how our culture has reduced the walking cane to a sign of aging or decrepitation.

In “finer times” the walking cane, often called a walking stick, was used as a tool in traveling. It was also common to use a cane as a fashion statement, show of status or to hide a weapon.

Part of the transition in the use of the cane was the shift to carrying an umbrella. This became the newer fashion in the 1900s. Remember the parasol?  Who knew that one day the umbrella would become a compact accessory that many carry in their bag or purse.

Before the 20th century, canes were used all the way back to biblical times, such as shepherd’s staff, for navigating over uneven ground. Staffs also were utilized in churches to signify authority.

Recently, I heard a woman refer to her friend saying, “She’s my human cane.”

This touched my heart. The woman’s companion was gentle and kind as she gestured her arm toward the friend as support to subdue the fear of falling. We all need someone to lean on sometimes.

A walking stick acts as a kind of guide. Wouldn’t it be very fun if they became popular again as a fashion statement?  Even if a cane is needed for support, it might be exciting if there were a resurgence of creative expression through your personal walking stick.

An Albanian proverb professes, “When you have no companion, look to your walking stick.” In the age of living longer, it could be a symbol of empowerment and pride to wield in confidence a personal walking stick. Maybe we’ll begin again this classy fashion statement of old.

Top coat and hat anyone? But really, we could make it fun and modern.

Robert Coates, an American writer and critic for The New Yorker in the 1940s and 1950s, said, ”The best, the most exquisite automobile is a walking stick; and one of the finest things in life is going on a journey with it.”

I have a friend who fashioned walking sticks for me and my kids when they were younger, as a symbol of journeying. We loved going on hikes. The sticks are sweeter now because they are so short. My kids have grown quite a bit taller since then. No matter, even now if we go for a walk in the woods, we will find a good stick to use as a walking companion.

A walking stick is grounding that way. It makes each step a little more steady and sure. The grounded steadiness leads to a larger sense of awareness and connection to the details on the path, and a sense of measure of the journey.

As collectibles, many walking canes are now considered antiques, someworth major dollars.  Touted as having one of the best collections of walking canes in the world, a woman named Liela Nelson of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., built a business she callsThe World of the Walking Stick. She has canes that range in price from $200 to $17,000 and up!  I’ve also seen other dealers on line.

Some of the value of the collectible canes has to do with the ornate detail and materials used. Also, at the height of popularity between 1870 and 1915, more than 1,500 patents were issued for “systems canes,” which were known as a “secret stick” because it turned into something else such as a seat, or had a secret compartment with a knife, sword or flask. Many of these are much more costly, depending on who the original owner was.

So whether you need a friend to lean on, or you find a sturdy companion in your walking stick, hold your head up high knowing that you may be the next trend setter if you’re willing to do it with style. 

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