I always wanted to grow old gracefully. Not an easy thing for an assertive and candid speaking person, but I’m trying.
I tell myself that life is a lifeboat and we need to make room for everyone — or conversely, if we throw someone out of the lifeboat we won’t have enough rowers.
My model on this growing old gracefully thing was Goethe the German writer and thinker whose mind scattered all over the place. He wrote on government, philosophy, plants and romance, helped plan the city of Jena, produced plays by his fellow philosopher Friedrich Schiller and captured his own demons in his most famous work Faust, the fellow who sold his soul to the devil.
But he was wonderfully docile and content in his declining years, which he spent puttering around in his garden beneath a wide brimmed hat while someone else fixed lunch and did laundry.
There is hope for me on this front. My husband Bob, who courted me cooking, still can make a spectacular spaghetti sauce and is a master at eggs — which many people do not know how to cook. He has yet to venture into the laundry room, a little enclave that he set up exactly as I wanted it at the end of the kitchen with truly upscale stainless steel lined washer and dryer, a sewing table, ironing board that is never down and a rack where items can be taken from the dryer and immediately hanged to avoid ironing as often as possible. I know he is capable because when I met him in 1987 he was a self-sufficient widower who pressed his own jeans and his shoes were always shined. He claims it’s my indomitable nature that keeps him venturing into what he considers to be my domain.
Be that as it may, I do maintain a personal agenda. The brain keeps chattering and I keep developing new thoughts on almost every subject. I sew an occasional curtain, dust the wood floors, call a friend if I’ve prepared a meal that pleases me and bathe my two small white dogs when their forays under the tool shed turn them a shabby gray. Through it all, I keep a mental file on those personality traits that define the people I know — friends and family alike. In my lifeboat there is room for a wide range of ideas.
In place of Goethe’s garden, I’ve taken to walking bridges, a pleasure that Bob more or less indulges. When we first met I talked to him about walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and he perked right up, saying, “I’ve got a bridge for you to walk.”
He had spent most of his adult life in Michigan and was familiar with the big bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac, so that August we headed to Michigan for the annual Labor Day walk across the Mackinac Bridge — which connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. This seven-mile, including approaches, bridge walk is an international affair. They close one half the bridge and rent every school bus within a 50-mile radius to shuttle walkers to the north end for the walk back across where walkers are greeted by the Mackinaw City Chamber of Commerce and handed a numbered cloth patch. Bob and I were 1,356 and 1,357 to walk across that morning and we were in the first hour.
A couple of years back we spent a week in Cincinnati so I could walk across John Roebling’s suspension bridge, a 1,700-foot walk including approaches. On any vacation, I scope out the bridges before we leave and plead for half an hour or so to stride above some body of water. Bob walked both ways with me on the Roebling Bridge the first time across, but on later forays the fascination paled for him so he dropped me off on the Cincinnati side, drove to the Covington, Ky., side and waited in front of a panel of 20-foot-high historic murals, which alone are worth the trip.
This habit of sending me out onto the bridge alone has its detractors. When we went to the quad cities so I could walk across the Rock Island Bridge, the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi, Bob dropped me off on the Rock Island, Ill. side. “This isn’t even an interesting bridge,” he said. “I know, but it’s historic,” I answered. So he agreed to wait at the Davenport, Iowa side. I was a little insecure in my stride and occasionally touched the railing for balance. Then lo and behold a police car pulled up beside me, touched one beep of a siren and stopped. A very young officer asked, “Ma’am, are you all right?” After a bit of banter, he determined that I wasn’t planning to jump and left me on the bridge to complete the walk.
I haven’t yet talked Bob into spending a week or two in Pittsburgh, which has more bridges than even Venice, Italy. I’m hoping to walk the little yellow Three Sisters bridges across the Allegheny River that end at Sixth, Seventh and Ninth streets in downtown Pittsburgh. These bridges, named for Robert Clemente, Rachel Carson and Andy Warhol, are not very long, only 995 feet, but from photos and movies I can tell they’re beautiful. They are heavily traveled pedestrian bridges. The Warhol bridge drops you off right in front of the Warhol Museum. The Clemente bridge, which ends at the Three Rivers Stadium, is lighted with blue lights at night to match the lights of the stadium.
I may have better luck with other bridges on my list, one at Council Bluffs, Iowa, and one at Little Rock.
I’m thinking about all this now because, with a combination of pain management and physical therapy, my walking and energy are on the upswing. I’ve been reading about these walking programs that some civic groups have started to foster good health and raise funds for their cause. I talked to park board President Stephen Flannery III about the idea of a walking program to benefit the Pacific parks system.
The way it works is participants pay a fee to join a walking club or walking program and vow to walk so many miles in a set amount of time. In one program, walkers agree to walk every day for 70 days. One club kicked off its program with an all-night walk in the park. Walkers register and turn in their miles at the end of each event. Organizers offer walking lessons, nutrition advice and motivational tips — 2,000 steps per day uses up 100 calories.
One group that calls itself Idita-Walk matches an individual’s walk to the miles on the Iditarod sled dog race. They set up a system to log walking time so the member can keep track of how close they are to meeting the original goal.
People in these clubs get T-shirts, free pedometers and motivational memorabilia. Most importantly, though, they lose weight, feel better and in most cases raise funds for a good cause. The amounts of money that walkers raise for cancer research, AIDS, orphans and vulnerable children would be hard to exaggerate. In Gulfstream Park, Ky., a recent wine walk raised $4,800 to care for retired thoroughbred race horses.
I have to tell you . . . I know this can work because last Saturday evening I sat in the Eagles big hall and watched Pacific residents pay for the privilege to get on stage and sing in front of a hometown crowd. I don’t yet know the total that was raised to buy sound equipment for the high school but the average was $20 and reached as high as $150. This wasn’t a grant. It wasn’t money from the federal government. This was local residents sharing their funds for a good cause and a good time.
It’s worth thinking about.
Pauline Masson can be reached at email@example.com or 314-805-9800.