I believe in small towns and sidewalks because my dad was a walker. Of course, he died at 48, but that’s another story. It wasn’t for lack of exercise.
He didn’t talk the talk, he walked the walk. He walked me to elementary school in the mornings and back after lunch, with a spring in his step and a purposeful stride. I was never prouder than when he complimented me on keeping up. What he praised as a “long stride” became a metaphor, sending me off with confidence and determination.
Dad walked almost a mile to work most days, and home for lunch whereupon he removed his tie and good shirt, and in his string T-shirt dug dandelions out of the lawn with a paring knife before the long walk back to the shoe store.
I have a fond memory of walking as a family through car-less, snow-drifted streets one Sunday afternoon, all the way across town, to the movie theater.
The sun nearly blinded us on the way, sparkling off of the fine powdered snow. On the way home the streetlights went on in the early dusk and the snow crunched beneath our rubber boots. The message was that life did not stop when you didn’t have modern conveniences. Walking was more than just making-do. It was a fine adventure, an act of independence, and you enjoyed it.
Eventually my sister and I were not so enamored of reminders that walking was good for you. Girls were not allowed to wear pants to school, so we graduated to knee socks or hose with garter belts under voluminous gathered skirts and straight skirts that got shorter and shorter into the ‘60s.
Life improved when we moved to Bluff Street, just up from the high school. But what a steep and windy hill it was. One’s skirt was liable to fly overhead in a stiff wind, a la Marilyn Monroe but with less panache. My sister promptly found a boyfriend with wheels, leaving me to hug my books with one arm and hold down flying skirts with the other.
I once asked my dad what his favorite color was, and he had to think about it. He guessed it was green. Green, because it is the color of growing things, he explained. And that’s why we had moved to a small town in Iowa, the place he called the garden spot of the world. The soil is a rich black and the crops grow like crazy, he reasoned. If everything else falls apart, we’ll always have that.
Dad knew the rug was not permanently beneath our feet. His family lost their Missouri farm in the Depression, going from riches to rags in a matter of months. There were forces he could not control. But if I’d just match his stride, it would be okay. Here in the garden spot of the world there would always be something to eat, and we’d still be able to walk to work.
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