Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Some of you (at least I think there's some of you, or mom, is it all you?) leave me comments and ask how I know so many stories/ know so much about my family. Well, for starters, I have an Irish grandfather and a grandmother who grew up Southern. Nobody likes to tell tales more than a liquored up Irishman--unless it's a Southern Belle.
Their stories got passed on to my mama, who then passed them on to me. Some of the stories got passed on while we were in the kitchen together. From an early age, I loved hanging out with my mother in the kitchen. My sister stayed FAR away from that place, but for me, the kitchen was the heart of the house.
We spent a lot of hours rolling dough, patting out hamburgers, glazing cookies with sweet icing. Especially in long North Dakota winters. Many of mama's recipes came from people she'd known and loved, and inevitably, there'd be some kind of story lurking in the background. I thought that was the coolest thing ever--that something as mundane as a slip of paper had a person, a time, a moment behind it.
But really, I learned most of my stories on The Walk.
The Walk wasn't something we were looking for, and at first, it was an awful reminder.
When I was in the third grade, my sister and I walked the four blocks home from school, boots thunking through February snow, bickering and hurling insults. We fumbled at the doorknob with mittened fingers, entered the foyer and...
My father was sitting at his desk.
This was weird. Dad usually travelled during the week. And if he didn't, he was at the office and (being the good German that he was) never came home until 6 o'clock sharp. Thursday+3pm+Dad=weird.
Plus, I didn't smell anything yummy in the air. Where was the smell of buttered popcorn, or oatmeal cookies, or yeast rolls with jam? Where was my after school snack, always waiting for me at 3pm sharp, because mama knew I was starving after school?
My sister and I cut eyes at one another, animosity forgotten, now comrades in a strange and quiet room. And then something happened that terrified me. My sister, still gawking at my father, reached out and took my hand.
Mama didn't die, but she was supposed to. She came close. When she returned to us, weeks and weeks later, she only had one lung. And as fate would have it, the one she got to keep was the one scarred from bronchitis, so it was kind of a bum deal.
She wheezed a lot, fought for breath. Doctors told her that she needed to strengthen that lung, make it so mighty that it could do the job of two. But face it, she was a frail bird. She certainly wasn't going to slap on a pair of leggings and Jane Fonda it to aerobics class.
So the doctors told her to walk. A lot. Start small, they said, until you start to feel better, but walk, and do it now.
Mama wanted rather badly to live, so she did. At first, she would just meet me outside school and we'd walk home together.
By summertime, she could walk up the steep hill to the neighborhood swimming pool, scan the sea of small faces until she saw mine. She'd holler my name, smile broadly, wave. And I'd wave back, whole body rocking, so happy to see her there. And then she'd leave me to my playmates and my cool water, journeying back home alone.
By fall, she was zipping up her windbreaker, telling us that she'd be back in 45 minutes.
And so it went, The Walk, every day, for several years. The bum lung got strong. She felt good. Her legs had muscles they'd never had before. And then she got a blood test back with a totally fucked white blood cell count.
And she dealt with it. And she kept walking. In fact, she decided to walk more. She worked up to 90 minutes, which was an awfully long time to spend alone. So she suggested I join her.
I'd just hit 6th grade, was gawky and miserable, had 1 friend to my name (thank you, Julie Nicodemus, don't think I've forgotten) so I agreed. Hey, it was something to do.
You can cover a lot of ground in 90 minutes. And we did. Five miles and lots of stories. We took The Walk together every day that we could. Even in 100 degree heat. Even at -10 in January, which we learned was a bad idea, because mama got frostbite on the tip of her nose.
We walked together for 7-plus years. That's a lot of stories, tears, confessions, changes, challenges.
The neighbors began calling us The Walkers. When people see someone hoofing it around the neighborhood every day for years, they start to think they know you, so mama and I would get accosted in grocery stores and post offices.
"Have you walked enough miles to reach San Diego yet?"
"You two are so inspiring! I've watched you for years, and now I'm starting to walk, too."
"Crap, would you give me some of your motivation?"
"I'm embarrassed to say it, but my husband looks forward to seeing you two girls walk by every day. He's a pig, but he means no harm."
"You two are so lucky to have each other."
And we were. We are.
I read this wonderful post the other day, by a writer and human being I highly admire. It reminded me of the power of The Walk. You sure as heck don't have to go five miles, and you certainly don't need to make it a daily ritual, but do it. Lace up your shoes, grab someone you love, and let the landscape and air and the rhythmic sound of your heels on hard ground take you away.
Posted by TKW at 2:55 PM