Our classmate Leon West is a year older than me, and he is a reliable predictor of what lies in my future. Last year, he told me he was staggering, and sure enough, now I am too. The cure for me is a walking stick and I picture myself as Maurice Chevalier or Fred Astaire. Back in their days, most men over 50 carried a walking stick, at least in the movies, and now I understand why.
A walking stick is to provide additional sensory input as an effective aid in balance, and not for support at every step. A few years ago, I noticed my balance in the locker room was much better when I just touched something, not actually holding on. That’s what a walking stick is for, especially at night when visual prompts are fewer.
The first got a magnificent one last year from a resale shop. I saw several carved African ones marked for $40. My wife watches American Pickers on TV, where every price is negotiated. I told the owner of the shop that I just wanted one to actually use, not as an investment. I picked out the best. Would he take $20? He said, Sure, and I walked out with a purchase I didn’t expect. It was the first price I ever negotiated, and it was a great start. The walking stick is made of ironwood, a general term for a variety of hard, fine-grained tropical species. The carving was so delicately detailed and symmetrical, I suspected it was plastic, but that would still have been a bargain. (A third face is pointed to the back, just below the top man’s mouth.)
The length of a walking stick is important, and I sawed off about an inch for mine (which was how I know it is real wood). When holding a walking stick next to your foot, your elbow should be just slightly bent.
But this is not the perfect one. It was only my first. It is on the heavy side, good for dress occasions and starting conversations, but not for my routine nightly walks along Concord Pike. For those times, I wanted something lighter, and I ended up making my own, the really Perfect Walking Stick. There was a lot of trial and error, but this is what I ended up with: I cut down one of those 1/4-inch fiberglass poles used to mark driveways ($1.98 everywhere), topped it with a round drawer pull, large for a drawer, but with the right sized hole and it fits perfectly in my palm. On the other end is a rubber crutch tip (as they are called), found in my local hardware store. The tip was not really necessary, but it was only 45 cents and makes it quieter (no tap, tap, tap on the concrete). The pole is strong enough to correct a stumble. The point of making my own was not the cost, but getting exactly what I wanted.
I see other seniors using hiking poles, pretending they are Ramar of the Jungle and not really in a mall. Those poles are okay, but not as practical off the trail. Folding canes are handy and light-weight, but they are canes, not sticks. I am a happy man with my two sticks, one for dress, and one for daily use (or none at all since I don’t yet require one).