My Father’s Walking Stick
By Carol Bradley
In the back corner of the last closet to clear out before our move to Mexico stood the walking stick my father left to me. My father died more than 20 years ago, but finding his walking stick brought to mind vivid images of him; the jaunty tilt of his hat, the arch of his eyebrows when he disagreed, and the fact he didn’t like kids until they were old enough to play chess and argue politics. It also brought to mind one of the last visits I had with my dad and my plan for a discussion about my sister.
I grew up in the shadow of a “perfect” older sister always thinking our father loved her more than me. It shaped my early life. She was a straight A student, highly competitive, pretty and popular. She met a boy from a prominent family before going off to teachers college.
I was one of their later children. One more was a menopause baby. They were tired by the time we came along. I was a tomboy running barefoot all summer barely tethered to home. My only sister resented sharing her room with a brat who had fistfights with our brother and was plagued with motion sickness on even the shortest drive in the family sedan. My father threw her a big wedding. It was 1968, a different time. We had to look worthy. I was to be the junior bridesmaid; paired with my dreaded, shorter brother. I was excited to be included in the trip to the City with the “girls” to try on dresses and shoes. I felt grown up; I was 11, tall and gangly for my age. I couldn’t wear high heels. I was trying to hold back the tears while the sales lady pushed the big, flat shoes on my feet. I felt like Cinderella’s ugly step-sister.
On the drive home, my father bravely quelled the mutiny when my elegant sister and her tony entourage dove for the windows when I started puking grape soda. My humiliation was complete. I hate flat shoes and grape soda to this day.
After my sister left, I grew up rebellious. I wore scruffy clothes, drank beer, played hockey and stayed out late. After high school, I took a job in a dirty warehouse. I had a baby out of wedlock. I spent my adult life trying to make up to my father for what a “terrible” daughter I was; along with trying to figure out why.
When my father was dying, it was important to know if he did love her more than me. I thought I had a right to know so I could learn to be a better person, a more worthy parent. I booked a flight to the coast and took along my oldest son.
I thought hard about what I was going to say. I imagined a walk along the beach with him, tossing rocks into the ocean while I talked. I wondered what he would say and how I would react. There was no “right” answer. If he said yes, I would be devastated. If he said no, I would wonder if he was lying to protect me. Either way, I knew my resentments should not weigh him down with guilt in the short time he had left.
We did go for that walk on the beach. It was a cool, windy day with a rare ray of sunshine. He had his trusty walking stick with him; his hat at the familiar tilt. We threw stones into the advancing winter tide and talked. I told him I loved him, a rare occurrence in our family. He told me he was proud of me. It was all I needed. We knew it was likely good-bye.
Then my son slipped and fell into the dark ocean. We fished him out, took him home and into dry clothes with a hot chocolate. I told my beautiful son how much I loved him and I do in every conversation I have with him or his brother.
I visited once more with my father before he died. I let him go, knowing I had said everything I needed to say: I love you. I will use his walking stick with pride when we explore our new home in Mexico. He will be there with me as he has always been. He helped me live a good life, raise a wonderful family and become a better person.
And secretly, I think he loved his rebellious daughter more.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com