When we first moved to our little house mid-way on the hill of Beacon Hill, we quickly met many of the old-timers living within a block or so of our house. We met them because they walked.
Nora raced by like clockwork on her way to and from work every day until she retired 2 years ago. She still walks by, but now often with a friend and they catch a bus to a casino for lunch, or just out to get exercise. Kenny, the old time piano player shared a stage with Ray Charles in the early days, still puts on his blue crossing guard hat and orange vest and meets up with Ed at our corner on their way to halt traffic as the elementary school kids and parents go to and fro. We called Papa Joe “Th Inspector” for his unannounced visits to check our handiwork in the house as we remodeled–an old tile-setter, we learned that “checking the tile” was a great euphemism we use today with humorous memories of Joe. Alice walked up and down the hill past our house, until she could only walk down, always stopping to complain about her knees. She kept going though, until she needed those knees replaced, and after her surgery she never returned home. Judy never went further than the sidewalk space in front of her house, but she walked it back and forth long after gout had taken over her life and stopped her from growing bok choy in the patch of yard.
These folks and many more were the regular passers by of our little turquoise palace in the early days. There was one walker, though who didn’t just stroll around the block. Marsha walked with dignified purpose. Beautiful, birdlike Marsha with a lilting sing-song “oh, hello!” as she passed by with her empty grocery bags on her way up the hill and her two, balance grocery bags on her way down. She was always immaculately dressed with her “face on” as my grandma would say. Marsha took great pride in walking up Hanford street—I should add that at one point in the hill climb the grade is 22%. That one block still takes my breath away after walking it for over 12 years. Marsha walked it well over 60 years.
A few years ago Marsha linger and chat over the garden fence, I finally asked her how old she was. Some how it came up naturally in conversation and I was floored to discover she was 93 at the time.
Before I moved to Beacon Hill, I don’t believe I knew any older folks who walked with great regularity. Suddenly I was surrounded by them. I was inspired by them! It was easy to see how important those regular walks were to the health and vitality of my neighbors.
We’ve lost some of those neighbors since we first moved into the neighborhood, but all have lived long and active lives well into their 80s and even mid-90s. Walking has connected them, eased their pain,and perhaps eased their isolation.
It had been months since we’d seen Marsha, and admittedly we can’t remember when we last saw her walk the hill. The past couple of years she had slowed down… let her jet black hair finally turn it’s natural shade of gray. The walks weren’t so frequent and this summer we didn’t see her out with the push mower cutting her lawn. Family would come and go, and we saw less and less activity at her house. A couple days ago Willie spotted her daughter’s van parked out front and went to inquire about her mother. Marsha had moved to a care facility and unfortunately she no longer remembered much about her life. The decline seems remarkably fast.
Without conscious imitation, I found myself walking up the hill to the store and returning with two balanced bags. Lift ten reps, then lift the other in time to my steps. Getting my real world workout … and thinking about 50 more years walking my hill.