Friday, December 12, 2014

Smith Comes Home For Christmas



I thought I was doing all the right things. I did everything they asked me to.  I changed my behavior and ate all the right foods they suggested. I kept up with my medicine and vitamins. I exercised regularly, rode my bike and started yoga.  I went in to see Jennifer for my quarterly appointment and expected that she would tell me I was doing great. I guess that is not the way it works. Instead what happened was I reunited with Smith, who I thought I could leave behind.  Smith came home for Christmas.

Smith is a cane. When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s I needed to use a cane because I was dizzy all of the time and had no balance. At first, I used Smith always, but then I got a black metal cane from the drugstore that was detachable and that I could fold up in my briefcase. I didn’t want people to see me hobbling around on in the office or on business trips.  It was also useful when I traveled because it easy to scan.  As I progressed on medicine and started doing physical therapy I was able to get around without either one, but always kept them around just in case.  The black metal cane is called Jones, named by my teen-aged daughter. He is still around but I don't talk to him much anymore. Now I'm with Smith.

Here is the story about Smith. Smith is the cane in the picture above. It was my grandfather’s.  It was made by an amazing woodworker named John Beals, who lived with his wife across the street from grandparents in a small town in Indiana, and who was his best friend.  Whenever we went down to visit from Chicago, the women neighbors would have contests on who made the best apple dumplings and pies. My father was always the judge, which was a role he liked very much.  I liked hanging out with Claude, my grandfather, and John as they talked and both made amazing things out of scraps of good wood and play darts. To this day I cannot figure out how John made Smith. It is made from a single, solid piece of timber. I can't imagine how many hours he spent carving it down and working through the balls and chambers.

The one thing I like to remember about John is that when he played darts he jammed his flight of three into his leg. He did this to intimidate opponents. What a lot of unsuspecting people didn’t know was that John lost his leg somewhere along his journey and that his replacement leg was wooden. It was one he made for himself.  His leg looked a lot like Smith. it fascinated me, particularly when he would take it on and off like it was nothing.  I have lot of things in my house that John made: candlestick holders, pencil cups, pitchers and my most favorite, the gavel he made for me when I was elected student council president in high school. He made Smith for my grandfather not long before my grandparents moved into a new house across town. Grandpa Claude called it a curiosity piece and never dreamed he would need it, but he did. My grandmother also used it until she was in her 90's. I got it after they both died, I never dreamed I would need it, but I do now.

The reason Smith got his name is this.  My father had an extremely weird obsession with the movie Mary Poppins. Whenever it would come on television it became a huge family event when we would all eat in the family room on TV tables. One of his favorite jokes was a recurring line in the picture, “I once knew a man with a wooden leg named Smith…Oh really, what was the name of his other leg?”  Part of that is when everyone started laughing and rose to the ceiling. We all laughed along. That is why my “wooden leg” is named Smith.

A few days ago, when I saw Jennifer, the most excellent neurologist, she said, “You have jumped up some levels. I want you back in physical, occupational, and also speech therapy because you’re having trouble finding words when you talk.” She also said, “You are also have a propensity to fall down. Apparently gravity has a deep effect on you. You have at three different times broken or cracked ribs while in the shower, and you just broke your finger.” I tripped over bump in the rug. “You need to keep a cane with you at all times. I also want you fitted for a leg brace.”  I asked her why. “I can look at your shoes and your left leg is not working.”  I looked down at my shoes and saw that while one was pristine; the other had the toe completely busted out.  She looked at my shriveled and varicosed left leg, shrugged, and said, “I’m sorry, T.S., you lack symmetry. This all might help. We'll see.”

When I got home I was very depressed. I didn’t want Smith back in my life. I didn’t want a leg brace that called attention to me. I already often don’t go out on days when I am shaky because I am highly self-conscious about how I look. Sometimes, I force myself to, because there are more important things than me. There are friends, neighbors, and there are family that need my attendance.

Once home I did what all strong men do…I went, cried in the garage and took a nap.  I woke up when a friend called me to see how things were going.  He said to me, ”I don’t know why you’re bitching so much. This just says to me early entrance on airplanes and handicapped parking. Show me where is ‘Canes R Us.” That last bit was a phrase coined by my good friend and neighbor, Jim, who makes me smile, that we all still use it all of the time whenever Smith or Jones comes out of hiding again for a bit. My phone friend also said, “House uses a cane and girls fall over him. It’s not going to make you any more handsome but it will make you distinguished, and you got that going for you.” I laughed and started to feel better. I went to find Smith.

Smith came home for Christmas and brought me a gift I didn’t want, but it looks like we are going to be brothers. Well, you make adjustments. You have to let things grow on you. Today was a better day. I visited with some friends and no one made a mention of Smith.  I didn’t even feel that bad walking around with him at meetings or in town. I haven't been that good at decorating for the holiday, but my wife and I set up the Nativity scene on our mantel tonight and that was really nice. I'll try to do more decorating tomorrow.

Looking at Smith here next to me by my bench tonight, I kind of feel he has some sort of friendly, sentient presence.  He really is quite pretty too. Knowing his history and how he helped my grandparents, and is now helping me, I think I kind of like him a lot. For a piece of wood that I have to carry around, he ain't half bad.

Smith will not slow me down. I have a lot of things to do and accomplish. God gave me a course and a race  to run, and I'm going to finish it. I guess though, if I'm going to have to be a man on a cane, and I’m now OK with, that, I want that cane to be Smith. As much as I don't like him sometimes, he is my friend and my brother who holds me up so I don't fall down.