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Abandoned cane props up one family's imagination

Aug. 30, 2007

I happen to be in possession of a blind woman's cane. I did not swipe it from her while she was looking the other way. I didn't even swipe it from her while she was looking right at me.

I take no issue with any blind people who would cause me to do something nasty like that. I simply found the cane. Or rather, I think it might have found me.

On a rather muggy and sodden day recently, I could take the ho-hum boredom of the day no more. My daughters Dorothea and Carmela and I had been trapped inside all day, heavily air conditioned against the heavy air outside. I lacked a sweaty shirt because of my daylong hibernation, but breathing the mechanically chilled arctic air was making my body and mind numb.

I decided to take action against my inaction. After applying sunscreen to the girls, I told them, "We're going for a walk!" They immediately scurried for shoes and sun hats. It seems they, too, were sick of being prisoners of comfort.

Braving the outdoors

There was no need to speak about our walking destination as we headed for the Humboldt Park band shell, come hook or crook. The band shell is our late afternoon hideaway on many days. There, we rest on the cool concrete deck of the performance stage, or, if we're moved by creative thought, perform an impromptu show for the birds and squirrels giving us the eye.

Often our afternoon shows are, in fact, prolonged studies of the three of us resting on the cool concrete deck. Kind of avant garde, sure, but the park animals seem to be an engaged audience.

The wall of stagnant, thick, hot air that hit us as we entered the great outdoors was no obstacle to our proposed trek. We needed stimulation, and if we were bound to sweat through our clothes, so be it.

As we approached the band shell, Dorothea took off and decided to take the higher ground - the hill route - to our final destination. I remarked to myself that she must have really been bored by our interior comfort-cooled times and needed to stretch her legs and remember what it is to run free. Her spurt of energy was good to see, and it made me push Carmela and the stroller just a little bit quicker.

Dorothea shouted out to me as she reached the top of her hill, "Race ya daddy!" In a flash, I was charging toward the band shell determined to not be bested by this young whippersnapper who shared my last name. I might win, she might be disappointed, but there was always that cool concrete deck to offer her a little late-in-the-day conciliation.

Cane in sight

I sprinted to the front of the band shell, a victor in every sense of the word. I would have usually looked to Dorothea immediately to offer her a thumbs-up for trying to beat the old man, but this time my eyes were drawn to something else.

A white cane, with about a foot of red paint from the bottom up, hung over the back of one of the benches set before the stage for a prior evening's concert. For some reason, I couldn't take my eyes off it; it was as if I had just found the love of my life for the first time and I needed to hold on to her with my eyes.

Funny that. I couldn't take my eyes off the very thing used to help someone without sight get through a day. It seemed I wasn't the only one. My daughters were fascinated, too. All thoughts of our rapid running race were put aside. The day was suddenly all about the cane.

For the girls, the first question was, "What is it?" They had never seen the white and red markings of a cane used by someone without sight. I explained the purpose of its fanciful decoration, and the girls were satisfied. But then, they seemed confused. It wasn't until Dorothea spoke up that I understood why.

"Well, how did the person who owns the cane get home?" said my very bright blood relation. A more direct question could not have been posed, and yet, the answers to it were so varied and so wild, it boggled my mind.

The mystery deepens

We started to imagine how the blind woman (we found a name tag on the cane marking it as a woman's) might have forgotten to take her cane with her after the concert. I suggested that the previous evening's performance had been so bad that the woman had run screaming from her seat.

Dorothea thought the cane owner might have been dancing so hard she forgot about her cane.

Carmela, still babbling away and not yet quite talking, picked up the cane and put it up in front of her nose. I believe she was trying to tell us the blind woman had been stolen away by elephants. The spitballing went on from there.

We concluded we would have to return the cane, and added it to our traveling possessions. As we walked away from the band shell, cane in tow, we all offered our own thoughts on whom this June, the listed cane owner, really was. There was an air of mystery about her, simply by virtue of the fact that none of us could reliably explain how she had gotten out of the park without her cane. There was a story behind this, and we were going to rout it out.

We gabbed about and studied the cane the rest of the day. When we got home, I called the woman of the cane and left a message explaining that I had the cane safely stored at my house and would try to arrange to drop it off at her house within a day or so. I hadn't noticed it, but my shirt was wet with perspiration.

Fodder for future plays

We had been in the heat and humidity of the day for longer than I had planned. Though our house was cool from the canned air, our conversation was still hot. Thanks to the cane, our minds had come alive again.

We'll get the cane back in the hands of its rightful owner real soon, but for now we'll keep making up tales of how it came to be propped against a park bench in our neighborhood. And maybe, if you're lucky some upcoming summer day, we'll have a late afternoon show based on our discovery all worked out for passersby at the band shell. We may not have hats and white ties, but believe me, all you need is the cane, and you're set for a day of summer daydreaming.

Jonathan West lives in Bay View and he's proud of it. He writes about the neighborhood and the people who live here. Contact him via e-mail at

jonathanwest@tds.net.

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