sA Grandpa's Cane
A Symbol Of Strength And Respect
By Ruth Zimmerman
His grandpa was a very old
man. Maybe 80 or 90 or 100, David
wasn't sure. But his back was as
bent as the handle of a teacup, and
his eyes were soft and watery and
pink. His hair, where it stragged out
from beneath his hat, was yellowish
David's grandfather seemed
always to wear a hat — at home, on
the street, in restaurants or visiting
— a black furry felt, which hung low
over his forehead and ears. And he
always held a cane, whether he was
sitting in front of the house or
shuffling tiredly up Broadway for his
exercise. It was a handsome cane,
ebony, with ivory set into the crook
and a gleaming silver disk on the
shaft which read, "To Mayer, on his
50th birthday, from the many who
love him well.
David had never inquired too
deeply into the history of the cane.
It was just a part of Grandpa, like
his hat or his old black suit or his
voice, shaky but low and deep.
are Jewish thoughts. And this is his
David did not understand. He
didn't like the idea of Grandpa's
black felt hat. He didn't like the idea
of Grandpa's not speaking English.
And he was ashamed of Grandpa in
front of his friends.
He didn't even want to bring his
friends home with him from school.
He knew that Grandpa would be
sitting in front of the door, leaning
on his ebony cane, his pale eyes
fastened on the pavement. Grandpa
would look up and smile and hold
out his hand.
"Ah ha, yingele."
David would touch Grandpa's
hand with the tips of his fingers and
glance at his friends. Grandpa's
smile would fade. The light which
Grandpa spoke hardly any English.
A few words here and there, but not for a moment had brightened the
misty eyes would die.
so that David could talk with him.
"Ah ha, yingele," he would say
Sometimes David could hear his
mother and father speaking softly to in another tone of voice. Then, "Nu
nu." He would shake his head
each other and saying how strange
slowly and reach in his pocket for a
it was that Grandpa had lived in
quarter or a 50-cent piece.
America for 50 years and couldn't
' "Nem, nem. Take, take." As
learn the langauge. David would
interrupt rudely and say, "Well, why though the money could pay David
for his embarrassment.
can't he, that's what I'd like to
It got so that David stopped
bringing his friends home altogether.
But David's mother would look
Once when he was walking on
gently across the room at her old
Broadway with the boys, they
father-in-law and pat David's hand
started to yell, "Old goat, old goat."
and say, "It doesn't matter, David.
Someday you will understand that it David glanced up and it was
doesn't matter. He has lived here for Grandpa shuffling ahead of them,
with his head bent low, and his
50 years, but in his own world —
yellowish hair straggling across his
with his own friends and his own
collar. Grandpa didn't hear them or
work and his own thoughts. They
tSk e t
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 28, 1988
"Does it hurt, Grandpa? Did
you hurt yourself?"
But Grandpa only moaned and
David looked around wildly, not
knowing what to do. There was no
one on the street to help him, and
he was afraid to leave Grandpa
"Mama, mama," David
screamed again and again and
again. It seemed a very long time
before David's mother threw up the
window, looked out and came
Between the two of them they
were able to hoist Grandpa up the
stoop and into the elevator. Upstairs,
they took off his coat and hat and
put him gently to bed.
"Mein schtecken," the old man
moaned. "Vie is mein schtecken?"
His cane! Where was his cane?
David rushed downstairs. The cane
lay on the street, broken nearly in
When the doctor came, he said
see them. David giggled because
that no bones had been broken, nor
he felt he-had to, and as though the
had there been any physical injury
old man were a stranger to him.
Grandpa, aside from a bruise or
One evening, about 5 o'clock,
two. But the shock of a fall to such
David was coming home from the
a very old man might be serious.
park. As he reached the corner of
Grandpa was to stay in bed until it
his street, his grandfather was just
sure that his old heart would
going up the little stoop of their
bear the strain.
house, leaning heavily on his cane.
For many days Grandpa lay in
Suddenly David saw him stumble.
a small white bundle between
For an instant he tottered, grasping
sheets. He was so weak
vainly for support and then he fell
to be fed, like a baby,
and his wrinkled hands trembled on
sidewalk. David ran.
the coverlet. He kept the two pieces
of the cane on a chair by his
Suddenly, David saw him
bedside, and every now and then
he reached out to stroke then.
stumble. For an instant,
And from everywhere in the
he tottered, grasping
as though the word of his
vainly for support and
illness had been carried by the
then he fell heavily down
wind, came visitors — men and
the three steps to the
women, all bent with age, misty-
eyed, and gray. They congregated
quietly around his bed and watched
lest his heart give in. There were
"Oi, oi," his Grandpa moaned,
who would not leave even
as he lay on the pavement, his coat
through the night, but sat nodding
all hunched around him, his hat
in the darkness by the bed. They
blown off, and his hair falling across
brought him chicken soup and
home-made cakes and jams and
David knelled beside his
bottles of grape wine. They read the
grandfather. First he brushed back
Yiddish papers to him and washed
the old man's hair. Then he picked
him and changed his sheets. As
up the hat and put it on his head,
leaves enfold a frail young flower, so
as though afraid that someone
did the little gray people enfold their
might see him not properly clothed.
old friend in tenderness.
Then he put his arm around him
David watched. And as he
and tried to get him up. But his
he wondered — wondered
Grandpa was limp and too heavy for
how wonderful must be his Grandpa
David to lift.
to be so precious to his friends.
"Oi, oi," Grandpa moaned.