Where I grew up, there wasn’t anywhere to go for a walk. I didn’t live in a neighborhood; I lived in the country. There were no sidewalks, and you wouldn’t want to walk along the side of the road, in the taller grass and weeds, where there might be snakes.
Cars drive fast on country roads. Teenage boys sometimes throw things out the windows.
So I’d drive into town to walk at the lighted high school track or at the Oak Lawn Cemetery across from the Energizer Battery plant. A paved path looped around the grounds there, and it was a good, safe place to walk.
Where I live now, there are sidewalks. I go out every evening after supper. You can mark time by how things on the street change with the seasons.
In the summer, I walk toward a big magnolia at the end of the street. The branches hang low, and in July, when the blooms are as big as baseballs, I put my face right in them and breathe in their soft scent. In August, the crape myrtles scatter pink blossoms all over the ground, and in winter, the same pattern shows up in snowfall.
On Sunday evenings, trash bins line the curbs. It’s interesting what people throw away. Families have a lot of trash; people who live alone have a lot less.
On my route the other night, I passed an old woman who was coming out of the front door of her house. She carried a single white trash bag, taking it to her trash bin. Didn’t look like she had much in it. I made an entire loop of the street before she made it to her trash can.
She called out to me. “Boy, you’re fast,” she said. And then, “I used to walk fast like that.”
It made me slow down.
It made me think about how the people whom I love walk. I think about how my grandmother walked so much when I was little; in the afternoons, she and I walked so many of the streets in downtown Asheboro, stopping to visit neighbors who wanted to show us their gardens or have us sit on their porches with them or have us listen to them play the piano and eat a piece of pie. I wanted to keep walking — that’s what we were out there to do, I thought — but I know now those neighbors were lonely. Now I know we weren’t just walking.
By the time my grandmother was 80, she still wanted to walk, but she needed me to hold to. I tried, but I’m not sure I did a very good job. I was so much younger. And impatient.
I think about my mom, about how years of working and standing on unforgiving concrete left her legs covered in horrible varicose veins; my dad, too. The two of them walk slowly now. My dad shuffles in his leather loafers. My mom takes small steps. They hold on to each other.
Sometimes, when I’m with them, I catch myself walking too fast, moving ahead. I look behind me, and I see their faces, smiling and struggling a little to catch up. I’m learning how to stop and wait. I’m learning how to hold out my arm, to give them something to hold on to.