LESLIE CRISS: Great-grandfather’s walking cane brings family history closer to home

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“Pain is never permanent.”
– Teresa of Avila

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
The human knee is a complex bit of workmanship. I’d never thought much about it until excruciating pain in my left knee began waking me up at all hours and not allowing me to return to rest.
An MRI finally brought the news from my doctor’s office: “Do you want the bad news or the worse news?”
The nurse spouted off some words about complex tears and cysts that I did not learn in my three months in pre-med more than three decades ago.
A visit to an orthopedist did bring some good news: No knee replacement necessary. Arthroscopic surgery could help repair my knee.
Family responsibilities helped me postpone surgery until later this year – a crippled caregiver is not something my mother needs.
But an intense and consistent pain that has, of late, caused me to limp like “Gunsmoke’s” Chester and Walter Brennan’s “gol-darning,” rocking chair-sitting, overall-wearing Amos McCoy has forced me into an earlier surgery.
So, for the past two weeks, I’ve been walking with the assistance of several canes – only one at a time, thank you very much.
First, I tried crutches and have quickly learned there is a distinct art to their use; and I have failed in that process.
Then my friend and co-worker Scott Morris brought me a lovely walking stick he bought somewhere in Idaho. I used it for several days and found it far less frightening than the crutches on loan to me from young Patrick Langford.
I returned the stick to Scott when my dad brought two canes from my parents’ home in Corinth.
The cane my paternal grandmother once bought for my mother did not pass muster. Something about a walking cane with a wooden mallard to hold on to just seemed odd.
So, I’m using the plain and simple, solid-wood walking aid that once belonged to my great-grandfather, Dr. Ralph Jackson Criss.
Called Big Daddy by my father and his other grandchildren, Dr. Criss practiced medicine first in Coles Creek in Calhoun County, and later in Coffeeville in Yalobusha County.
My dad told me his grandfather was the first in Calhoun County to own a car. A man drove the early Ford down to Mississippi from Detroit and stayed a few days to teach Big Daddy how to drive the car.
“Before that, he’d make his housecalls on horseback,” my dad told me.
I’m sure he was probably paid for his medical care in chickens and cakes, turnips and tomatoes.
He delivered all three of my dad’s brothers at home in Coffeeville – my dad was the only one of my grandmother’s four sons to be born in a hospital.
He and his wife, May Helen, had six children: Beth, a tough history teacher; Tyler, a longtime Coffeeville dentist; Ralph, a doctor like his father; Georgia, an extraordinary cook and drug store owner with her husband; my grandfather, Francis, an electrical engineer; and a son who died in infancy named Napoleon Bonaparte Criss by my great-grandfather.
Walking with the cane of Dr. Ralph Jackson Criss has been a family history lesson.
And a good experience, despite the pain.

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