For many years now I’ve been having experiences that at first flush seemed unfortunate, only to discover shortly afterwards that, without them, something very desirable would not have occurred or something fairly awful would have. For example, if all three persons involved in getting one of my sons to a distant airport for a trip to visit his father one time had not misread or misremembered the plane’s departure time, we would have been en route to get him there when the car’s water pump took out. This would have left us stranded by the road somewhere without money for towing or repairs. As it happened, our collective error meant that the problem was taken care of at home, allowing us time to safely reschedule his departure. One can posit that some external influence deliberately engineered our identical misimpressions in order to prevent a really serious mishap. When only the mind is involved, there is more room for speculation, but my last brush with “more than coincidence” involves a material component somewhat harder to explain away.
My father was a brakeman for the Missouri-Pacific. He died in 1971. I saved his railroad cap, his lantern, and switch keys, but the only physical link to him is his walking cane. It has been part of my everyday life since a bad fall eight years ago.
It’s very old, having previously been his father’s and before that, his great-uncle’s. Its mahogany stain has worn completely off the handle, and the bare wood exposed is markedly distressed. Two sets of initials have been carved in the end of the hook: my dad’s and my youngest son’s. It can therefore be identified without any possibility of mistake. It goes without saying that I am deeply attached to this memento of days gone by.
Well over a month ago, I looked for the cane in preparation for going out. It was nowhere to be found. I had a backup that I could use and went on about my business, but I was distraught over the loss. In the days that followed, I went back to each of the limited number of places I might have left Dad’s cane and made inquiries to no avail, the last being a large supermarket where I accompanied the customer service employee to the area where such things were stored in a particular corner all their own. It was empty. I lost all hope of ever recovering the keepsake but kept fretting about it. There was a sense of nagging incompleteness, of things being terribly amiss that needed to be set right.
I recently returned to the same supermarket to do some shopping, taking along the ordinary wooden cane on loan to me. Since having my wallet stolen from my purse left in the child’s seat of a grocery cart some time back, I have been scrupulously alert and never turn my back anymore. My cart stays within reach and in front of me. On this occasion, as usual, I put the cane, tip first, down in the basket on entering the premises, hung its hook over the edge of the cart’s handle, and began to fill the collapsible seat with produce and other typical purchases. One of these was a 20-pound bucket of kitty litter that I could hardly lift. It was not removed from the cart, even at the check stand, so the possibility of my having inadvertently switched carts with someone else at the last minute was absolutely nil.
When I got to my car and had unloaded all my stuff, I suddenly realized the cane was missing. “Oh, not again!” I groaned, but I brightened up at the knowledge that at least the loss had been discovered immediately, and I could doubtless go right back in and reclaim the item.
I first went straight to the checkout counter. No cane there. Then I tried customer service. Again I accompanied the employee back to the corner for lost canes. There was the cane from which I had just been separated, and there, as big as life, was my dad’s cane! I could scarcely believe my eyes. I grabbed it, all but yelling, “That’s mine!” I took possession of the other cane, too, and walked out with both of them.
Then I began to ponder the mystery of how the second cane managed to leave my grocery cart. Had it fallen out, it would have made a racket, and I might very well have tripped over it. Had some prankster attempted to take it while I was shopping, the sheer magnitude of the necessary movements would have attracted my attention, as well as the rearrangement of the grocery items that had been piled on top of the handle.
What is absolutely clear is that, had my backup walking stick not disappeared, I would never have found the other one. I had accepted the earlier failure to locate it as final. I would have had no reason to expect better results from any subsequent inquiry.
All I know for sure is that my beloved cane is home, and it’s going to stay here.—June Fredman, Gresham, OR