Before my grandmother’s stroke, she danced with men. In dance halls – to Big Band and Rock ’n Roll. As a small child I danced on top of her feet, my mouth in her soft belly my hands not making it all the way around her back, even though she was just under five feet.
After her stroke, she came to live with us for years.
As soon as she came home, she started walking around our block shaped like a horseshoe. From east Delaware Trail to West Delaware Trail, past the Snyder house where the boys made fun of her large nose, the drag of her left foot, the way she held her left hand with her right.
She walked in uncomfortable vinyl shoes with her feet spilling out like dough, dragging her left foot and disconnected memories behind her. She walked every day for hours, until it was too cold to walk.
I loved my grandmother before and after her stroke. She smelled like peppermint, had tiny, child-like teeth, a nose like George Washington and a wonderful laugh, and her hands always smelled like onions. Before her stroke, she was always waiting on the sidewalk to greet my family of five, in front of a white picket fence and a house with a porch, as if she could feel us coming in the tan Ford station wagon from hours away.
She spoke slavic to her sisters, which sounded like an angry language to me, and had a mean cat named red who could take a finger off and didn’t like anyone but my grandmother Bessie.
After Bessie died, I didn’t see her again – not in my dreams, not as a ghost, just in my sometimes memories, like when I’m pushing Conor down the street on his American flyer tricycle or chopping an onion. I only saw her once with my grandfather at the foot of my bed when doctors were unsure if I would walk again.
Get up, she said. It’s time to walk. My grandfather agreed with her, even though he only had one leg. Even though before this I had never met him, I knew who he was.
My grandmother taught me perseverance, how to walk through anything, through my toughest physical times, limping after I dislocated my middle toe, through cancer, through heartache.
During 2020 – this fuck of a fucked-up fucking year, I’ve been walking so much more, first right through Covid; I walk especially when my body isn’t at its best, that’s when I know I have to get up. I trespass to get to a waterfall, passing plumeria and orchid trees, and sit watching the water wash away the day at the end of a long walk.
Since Covid, I have walked thousands of miles, and the walking has been healing my lungs, and saving my sanity.
I walked through the lies and the deaths and the grief and the friendship. I walk with friends and my daughter and my grandkids in the stroller and sometimes double stroller, pushing it up a hill I call Heart Attack Hill.
I also walk alone, deepening my relationship to my body and to the earth.
I am urging all of you to get up and walk. Whether you are in a city or the suburbs, an island or a desert.
Deepening our relationship to the planet is critical right now for our personal health and the health of the earth, because we are all connected to each other, to every living thing. I walk to the waterfalls, the beaches, pass the night owls and the shearwaters in a kind of meditation and gratitude.
Thank you, I say, every night. Thank you, thank you.
My advice to everyone is to keep walking, dancing, moving….and keep writing and sharing. Even if you can only make it to the end of your block, even if only once sentence comes out of you.
I promise you the sun will bless you. The stars will decorate your hair. The owls will swoop down to say, I am here with you. The trees will stand as soldiers on the hardest days, bearing witness to these times.
On Fridays, a rare day when I don’t work, I put my grandson’s feet on top of mine and his face in my soft belly, and we dance to Motown or Luis Armstrong or Big Band music. Sometimes I smell peppermint or onions, and I can hear my grandmother’s vinyl shoes clicking on the hardwood floor beside us.